My Farewell to HEAL Utah!


I’m warning you. This will be a somewhat longer email than normal. There will be some reminiscing – and because it’s me, a joke or two. Or eleven.[1]

(Note: I have sprinkled footnotes throughout this farewell email, because I’m a goofball. The numbers in brackets look like links, but don’t click them. Just look at the end of the email for the actual footnote.)

Now, let’s cut to the “news” part: After six-and-a-half years at HEAL Utah, I am moving on, to start a new phase in my career.[2] (This is NOT a joke.)

It was not an easy decision. I am by nature a restless soul who likes new challenges, but HEAL is a very special place. Whoever replaces me as the Jefe of HEAL[3] will be very fortunate to be joining a group with a talented staff, dedicated board, rich history and a rock-solid foundation.

(Are you interested in becoming HEAL’s new Executive Director? Know anyone else who might be? Check out our job ad! Applications due August 14.)

I applied to be HEAL’s policy director in 2010. I had moved to Utah four years earlier, after the University of Utah hired my wife.[4] I had spent my first few years here as a freelancer, writing, editing and teaching journalism. I enjoyed the flexibility, but was desperate to be part of something great, rather than working alone each day, muttering to myself, eating too much and shopping for larger and larger pants.[5]

In HEAL, I found something great. And, thankfully, even though my resume didn’t scream “policy director[6],” HEAL took a chance on a cocky, older guy[7] who was good with words.

As I reflect on my time at HEAL, I think first of the people I worked with back then. Christopher Thomas was a great boss: Patient, organized and knowledgeable. Sophia Nicholas was both the nicest, and one of the most capable, people I’ve ever worked with. Rob DeBirk was incredibly bright, dedicated to our issues and we shared a love for loud music and off-color humor. Our board co-chairs, Bob Archibald and Mary Ellen Navas, have never gotten enough attention, but they are experienced, warm, brilliant and relentlessly dedicated to this organization.[8]

But I also think of the successes that marked my time here. HEAL is, by any measure, a modest-sized organization. Yet, somehow, we kept an executive from EnergySolutions from serving on a state board that regulates the billion-dollar nuclear waste company. We defeated an effort from an incredibly well-connected company to site nuclear reactors on the Green River.[9] We convinced the EPA to order pollution controls on Utah’s dirty and aging coal power plant fleet. And, in the issue that I have most directly been involved in, we transformed Utah’s air pollution problem from a fringe issue into a mainstream concern and successfully pushed new solutions to clean it up.

Those aren’t the only victories, by any means. Beyond these tangible nuclear, clean energy and clean air successes, I’m also immensely proud of how HEAL has matured during my time. We’ve grown from four staff to seven. Our email list, from 4,500 to 15,000.  The number of donors, from 400 to over 850.

Those metrics are proof that HEAL is in great shape, poised to be an even more powerful force in Utah for years to come. Beyond the numbers, I also have extraordinary faith in the six great people I work with. Let me briefly remind you of the considerable talent here at HEAL.[10]

Ashley Soltysiak, our policy director, is a force of nature at the Legislature and beyond – sharp and dedicated to our clean air and nuclear work. Laura Schmidt, our outreach and technology director, juggles varied responsibilities, including keeping you up-to-date on our campaigns capably and with good humor. Michael Shea, our senior policy associate, ably and passionately manages the wildly wonky world of energy policy and carbon reduction strategies. Hannah Whitney, our development director, is a warm, steady and dynamic force keeping HEAL on track. Noah Miterko, our grassroots organizer, is a friendly and energetic ambassador for all of our campaigns. Jessica Reimer, our new policy associate, is a sharp and inquisitive quick-learner who is proving to be the perfect addition to our team.

They’re a great bunch. Whoever replaces me is very lucky.

So, why, cocky mustached man, are you leaving? The answer, rhetorical question man, is to immerse myself in a totally different world: The world of words, of writing, of literature. Starting next month, I will be teaching 10th and 11th grade English at Judge Memorial Catholic High School right here in Salt Lake City. It’s a big change – trading a focus on Gov. Gary Herbert and Rocky Mountain Power for one on Zora Neale Hurston and Cormac McCarthy. I’m nervous about the new challenge, but my soul is ready for a shift from worrying about the world’s big problems, to zeroing in on helping young people grow and to develop a passion for great writing.[11] 

I’ll be around a few more weeks, so this isn’t the last you’ll hear from me. And, until HEAL does hire a new boss, I’ll pitch in from time to time. I’m hoping to continue to host the HEAL Utah Podcast, so you may just keep my voice in your ears for years to come.[12]

Before I sign off, allow me to ask you a favor. Stay involved. Stay passionate. Keep showing up. HEAL is HEAL not because of its bosses. Not because of Chip, Jason, Vanessa, Christopher or me, or because of Bob and Mary Ellen or our great Board, but because of you. Because you urge officials to do the right thing (click here for our current actions on rooftop solar and for clean air); because you show up at HEAL events (such as our Community Night on clean air this coming Wednesday at the Marmalade Library); and because you donate to HEAL.

Thank you. This has been a great job. I’ll miss it.

But the work, of course, will continue. Thanks to you.



[1] Note: Most of the jokes will be in footnotes. You can blame David Foster Wallace and Bill Simmons for that.

[2] You’ll have to read to the end of the email to find out what I’m doing next!

[3] This alliterative wordplay works better if you know that “Jefe” is pronounced “Hef-ay.”

[4] She’s now at Westminster College.

[5] Sadly, this is not a joke.

[6] My resume did, however, scream. I embedded one of those chips you find in cheesy birthday cards. So when the reader unfolded it, it shrieked “Hire Him!”

[7] OK, I’m not that old (45 now, 39 when I was hired) but I think I was HEAL’s first hire over 30!

[8] Please allow me to apologize to all the former and current board and staff I don’t have enough space to name. (Except the one or two I’m deliberately excluding. You know who you are! (That’s a joke. Or is it??))

[9] The Green River nukes is not OFFICIALLY dead. But, I can assure, it’s dead. If it comes back to life, I’ll eat my shoes and his shoes too. But not your shoes. Your shoes are nasty.

[10] I’m doing this in order of seniority. No favorites here! (Except you. You’re really my favorite.)

[11] As my wife has pointed out, there is one problem with this theory: I hate teenagers! (To my new Judge employers: This is a joke! I swear!)

[12] That sounds gross. But it’s a pretty good podcast that’s worth your time, I promise.