Dear Rep. Noel,
You’ve finally, fully lost me. Up until last week, I may not have agreed with your policies, but I always gave them an extra listen because I assumed at a gut level that you were the kind of straight-shooting, salt-of-the-earth “good man” I grew up with in rural Michigan. That you shared the country values of my grandpas and uncles here in Payson and Benjamin. That your word mattered.
Clearly not so. By failing to disclose your ownership of a 40-acre parcel of land inside the original boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, you’ve shown that bedrock principles like honesty and integrity are negotiable for you. That you’ve taken on the complexion of men like my grandpa, but not the character. That you have more in common with a New York City developer than a man who would rather die than see his family name connected to greed or deceit.
You know very well that as a member of the Utah House of Representatives, you are obligated to disclose every potential conflict of interest. The Conflict of Interest and Financial Disclosure form you filled out is explicit—approaching potential conflicts from a variety of angles, including employment, memberships, property, and even stocks and bonds.
How is it possible that you listed several entities and organizations but forgot Noel Properties LLC, a company that owns $1.29 million of land in (at least previously) and near the monument you fought to shrink—and that bears your family name?
It isn’t possible. Yet you dismiss criticism with blithe comments that moving your land outside the monument “wasn’t a big deal” and that there was “really no attempt to hide anything there at all.”
First of all, where I come from, $1.29 million is a big deal. But more importantly, we take the forms we sign our names to seriously.
What really struck me, though, was the contrast between accountability in the legislature (or lack of it) and accountability in the private sector. Things seem upside down.
You see, I own shares in a small writing/editing business. It’s nothing like your holdings, but we do okay. When I went to work for a midsize company in a completely different industry, I needed to disclose that potential conflict of interest.
There were times over the years when my employer desperately needed a contract proofreader, and it would have been easy for me to offer up the services of my own firm. But I couldn’t because it would violate standard business ethics.
I could have told myself that it was “not a big deal.” As a business owner, the personal profit to me for a typical proofreading job would top off at about $8, if we didn’t face any unexpected expenses or need to reinvest that money back into the business. But I followed the rules and found a different proofer.
In another example, I hired a motivational speaker for my employer’s global sales meeting, and he thanked me by sending a beautiful crystal vase from Tiffany & Co. It came in an iconic blue box (like the one Melania gave Michelle), and trust me, I didn’t want to risk losing it through disclosure. But I followed the rules and registered it with our corporate attorney.
I didn’t behave in this way because I feared losing my job or because I have an outsized sense of morality. I did it because of the commonplace ethics that are still modeled in most communities and many companies. The kind of commonplace ethics my grandpa would have expected. The kind I had falsely attributed to you.
Shauna Bona is a volunteer with Alliance for a Better Utah.