Frances Sjoberg (Phoenix, 2012)
Principal Attorney, Economic and Community Development Unit, Navajo Nation Department of Justice
1. Can you please describe your work and how public policy impacts how you manage your organization?
I very recently left private practice at Lewis Roca to work in-house as a principal attorney for Navajo Nation Department of Justice’s Economic and Community Development Unit. In this capacity, I serve at the pleasure of the Navajo Nation’s Attorney General and am a managed person rather than a manager within the organization. In this context, I aim to lead by providing great service to the excellent colleagues and leaders I work with.
Prior to my move to Navajo DOJ, I worked as outside counsel for the Navajo Gaming Enterprise and with Navajo leadership to help negotiate the 2021 Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact, along with representatives from 19 other Arizona tribes, Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, and the Arizona Department of Gaming. I continue to assist the Nation with Compact implementation. I also advise on election matters, and work with the Division of Economic Development on initiatives to facilitate, finance, foster, and further business and economic activity on the Navajo Nation. This comes in many forms, including pandemic recovery, capacity building, land acquisition, and pursuit of small business funding opportunities.
Public policy is critical to every facet of my work. I advise on legislation, support intergovernmental negotiations, and coordinate teams to further policy objectives. I like a heavy lift, to work on projects with roadblocks and adversity, and to find a win-win in even the most intractable problems.
2. Do you have a favorite quote that is meaningful to you?
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
–from Marge Piercy’s “To Be of Use”
You can find the whole poem here.
3. Is there a book you would recommend to the Fellows?
“Three Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West” by Megan Kate Nelson
This book is a carefully rendered war history of the American Southwest in the 1860s based on letters, diaries, records, oral histories, photographs, and maps. From this source material, Nelson creates a vivid narrative from the perspective of many diverse individuals, providing a nuanced picture of this painful and pivotal time in the New Mexico and Arizona Territories, Apachería, and Diné Bikéyah.
4. How has the Fellows Network been useful to you?
I am just smitten with the Flinn-Brown Fellows. So knowledgeable, interesting and committed to the public good. Individuals in the Network have been a go-to source of information and inspiration for me. When I meet Fellows in the course of my work, I know I can trust them, even if we’re representing adverse interests. This baseline trust, especially in adversity, gives me faith in an ability to accomplish things that might otherwise seem impossible.
5. What do you see as potential opportunities strengthening civic health in Arizona?
The Vetted Idea: Focus on Primary Elections
For several months, I have been talking to a bipartisan group of Fellows and likeminded peers who are concerned about the character of our leaders and candidates for elected office. It has become clear we need to put our effort into a few key primary races to strengthen honorable candidates with the integrity to speak up for what’s right, not what’s easiest, most self-preserving, or most likely to curry favor with an influential demagogue. If you’d like to be involved in discussions about bellwether state primaries, or have a desire to roll up your sleeves and help, let me know.
The Unvetted Idea: Reluctant Candidates
Perhaps misquoting Maricopa County Supervisor Tom Galvin: “In times like these, public service has never been less appealing, or more important.” Even if you’re reluctant, if you feel in your gut you could do it, run for office. Or seek out and support reluctant candidates with character, integrity, and courage to change the script, even (especially) when it means speaking out against actions of people within their own parties. We probably don’t need more career politicians. We do need thoughtful, everyday leaders willing to serve just long enough to leave their offices better than they found them.
If you missed a Fellows Spotlight, you can view them on the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership website now.