Settlement revisited

San Juan County Commissioners met in a special meeting on March 11 to discuss one item of the resolution approving the lawsuit settlement agreement between the Navajo Nation and the county regarding voting rights.

At the March 11 meeting, Commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes voted to implement the original language in the agreement that had been taken out in a February meeting. Commissioner Bruce Adams voted against the motion.

The settlement agreement was originally implemented in 2018 and was set to expire in March 2021. At the February 16 meeting, the commission voted to extend the agreement through 2024.

Commissioner Adams made the motion to approve the resolution, with an amendment that struck a requirement to immediately hire attorney Steven Boos and/or David Irvine as the County representatives in the meeting and confer process established in the order.

The amendment was recommended by County Administrator Mack McDonald on legal advice from County Attorney Kendall Laws.

“The hiring of an attorney is really the county attorney’s position,” said McDonald at the February meeting. “So, there’s nothing that I can do or you can do. It’s up to our county attorney to do that. That’s his elected capacity.”

At the March 2 meeting, Commissioner Maryboy explained he had not understood the motion due to poor internet reception and expressed a desire to undo the resolution and replace it with the original directive to hire Boos and/or Irvine to represent the county.

At the Special Meeting on March 11, Commissioner Adams expressed his concerns with the action. Adams cited the opinion that County Attorney Kendall Laws had told the commission that hiring Boos or Irvine would be a conflict of interest.

“Because Steven Boos represented Mark Maryboy, who is a brother to Kenneth in the action, and David Irvine represents Mr. Grayeyes in an additional action, this would be a conflict of interest and a violation of county policy,” said Adams.

“I think this has been addressed by our county attorney in writing to all three commissioners. I think that would be technically a violation of the law.”

Commissioner Maryboy disagreed with the assessment, saying if anyone had a conflict of interest, it is the Suitter Axland law firm that previously represented the county in the case.

“The Suitter [Axland] law firm represent[ed] the former commission, which had the opposite position than the current commission has on the settlement,” said Maryboy.

“So, if any firm has a conflict with the county commission, it’s the Suitter [Axland] law firm. That would be the way I would interpret and see this.”

Commissioner Adams responded saying he didn’t understand how Suitter Axland would have a conflict of interest.

“[They] have not represented any individual commissioner in any individual case. They have represented the county and the county commission,” said Adams. “So, I’m not clear what their conflict of interest is.”

The commission voted 2-1 to reinstate the original language to direct the county attorney and county administrator to hire Steven Boos and/or David Irvine.

Commissioners Maryboy and Grayeyes voted for, with Adams voting against.

Both the February 16 and March 11 version of the settlement stipulates that during elections, the county will provide early voting locations and Election Day polling places in and near the Navajo Nation portion of San Juan County.

Additionally, all locations are required to have a Navajo language interpreter available to assist voters.

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