A Reporter Looks Back on 2018

| News | December 27, 2018

I used to be a sportswriter, first at The Signal from 1990-1995 and then the Daily News from 1995-2002. One constant was that the major seasons – football, basketball and baseball in particular – were year-round. There was always something happening, or someone worth writing about.

I mention this because 2018 was an election year, and even though that didn’t happen until November, there was always something happening, or someone worth writing about.

I spent much of this year covering the city council and 25th congressional district races, and I found the experiences exhilarating, rewarding, frustrating and satisfying.

It started early, with Katie Hill among the many women gracing the cover of Time magazine in a story about the number of first-time female candidates (full disclosure: I forgot what she looked like and incorrectly identified where she was on the cover).

I found Hill earnest, determined, driven, down to earth, frank and accessible. I had no trouble getting comments from her, even when she refused to sign the so-called “People’s Pledge” to keep outside spending out of the race, or when the HBO series “Vice News Tonight,” in a segment highlighting the importance of raising money, caught Hill joking that a staffer was calling her previous sexual partners looking for money for the campaign.


I was impressed at how well she raised the millions of dollars she needed to unseat Steve Knight, and I liked how she navigated the attacks Bryan Caforio threw at her when he realized she was a legitimate threat, and I’m equally impressed that she hasn’t taken the normal approach of keeping her head down, keeping a low profile and just learning about the way Congress works as many freshmen lawmakers do. Instead, she’s front and center, taking leadership roles. I hope her constituents appreciate it.

I got to know the other major players, too. I found Knight to be thoughtful and reasoned in his approach (and pretty accessible, too, until he lost the election). But I think he put party politics over his constituents too many times, and it cost him.

Caforio turned me off. I grew tired of his answering my every question with an attack on Knight, even when the question didn’t warrant it. Then he denied he was changing his tactics and going after Hill when it was clear Hill was a threat, resulting in his being censured by a Democratic club that endorsed him (but didn’t rescind the endorsement).

I found him too much like other politicians. I had heard claims that he moved into the district to run, claims that seemed to be proven when he put his Valencia house on the market in August.

I have hope for Jess Phoenix. She was a breath of fresh air with a unique outlook and background. I hope she seeks elective office again. I wish she had been more accessible. Whereas I could call Caforio and Hill directly, I needed to go through Phoenix’s people to get to her, and she often responded via emailed statement. I’m sure how she dealt with the press was not a factor in her finish, but I would have liked to cover her better.

I had plenty to cover when it came to the city council, and not just the election. While the members sometimes did things right, such as when it fought to remove the Canyon View Estates solar panels, it is clear to me that this quintet is more interested in holding onto power than doing what is best for the people.

Look no further than resisting the move to district voting and selecting a mayor as proof.

Instead of putting the matter to the people, this quintet would prefer to risk another California Voter Rights Act lawsuit – and hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to attorneys (the first cost taxpayers $600,000) – than see if the majority of its citizenry really wants it.

The reasons for opposing – don’t fix what isn’t broken, it would cause provincialism, district representatives could team up and block funding to other districts – range from laughable to valid, but it doesn’t change the fact that his quintet refuses to even let the very people they say they represent have a say.

If the person or persons Brett Haddock and Logan Smith know actually sue the city next year, I’ll be waiting to see if any of the quintet take responsibility for bringing this about. If not, the people should use the recall process and remove them.

The people also don’t have a say in how the mayor is selected, and that problem was blown open earlier this month when this quintet squabbled like children, leading one watcher to remark, “After tonight’s utter debacle, it is clear to anyone who watched or attended the City Council meeting we are on our way to becoming a dysfunctional Council.”

Laurene Weste said she was “uncomfortable” with the way it played out and said she wants everyone to get along, yet she seconded a nomination for Cameron Smyth and then voted for Marsha McLean, causing Smyth to bitterly and sarcastically thank her before attacking Bill Miranda for saying the council should require four votes for mayor but being OK that the vote was 3-2. This all made Smyth look extremely petulant.

McLean sounded overly sensitive and entitled in nominating herself for mayor. Yet when the opportunity presented itself for her to jump in and nominate Miranda for mayor pro-tem, she didn’t, making her apology to Miranda seem hollow.

Miranda tried to make peace but only showed he doesn’t have enough respect from the others to be nominated for mayor pro-tem. Does the name TimBen Boydston ring a bell?

Bob Kellar had the right to nominate whomever he saw fit, but he should have told McLean to her face that he was nominating someone else instead of leaving a message on her home voicemail.

(McLean texted me on Christmas Day, “He did not indicate he was nominating anyone.” Kellar responded Wednesday by saying his message explained why he wasn’t going to support her, and he did not recall saying he was going to nominate anyone.)

Here’s the kicker: According to Robert’s Rules of Order, the nominations are voted on in the order they were placed. Since Kellar nominated Smyth before McLean nominated herself, the council should have voted on Smyth’s nomination first – except that according to Smyth, who called me back late Dec. 24, the city doesn’t follow Robert’s Rules of Order. He said he has placed on the next council agenda a discussion to use Robert’s Rules in the future.

It’s never a dull moment with these people. Neither was it during the months leading up to the election, when I interviewed 11 of the 15 city council candidates.

I usually attempt to interview everybody; this time, I decided that I would only interview those who paid the money for a ballot statement because that told me they were serious candidates (imagine my surprise when Ken Dean, who didn’t pay for a statement, came in fifth out of 15).

I made one exception: Sean Weber. I thought it was more important for the voters to know about the legal wrangling between Weber and Haddock, so I included him.

My goal with these stories always has been to educate the voters about each candidate, and I feel I was successful in doing so – except for Weste, who refused to answer my questions and hung up on me twice when I tried subsequently.

Twice, the Gazette tried to pin her down: at a candidate’s forum at College of the Canyons and at a Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting. In the former, she smiled and told me, “You have no questions.” In the latter, she responded to Editor Sarah Farnell (who asked her three questions I originally posed) with answers that didn’t address the questions.

I met a lot of great people this year. Chris Varner did some great work coaching the West Ranch football team. Ben Budhu did everything he could to make cornhole popular. The same held for Weston Monroe and Glen Terry and their love of underwater hockey.




Eric Early


Eric Early made a quixotic quest to unseat Xavier Becerra at state attorney general, first on the ballot and then in the courtroom. Jennifer Van Laar went public with her accusations of sexual harassment against Dante Acosta, and Scott Wilk’s attempts to punish her (both denied their roles). Pat Hines talked about her adventures rowing 2,400 miles from Monterey to Honolulu. Jeff Armendariz visited the USS Iowa to escape the stresses of his law practice.

I also met Todd Hall, who claimed the owner of Southern Smoke BBQ & Brewhouse in Newhall never paid him $25,000 for work done. And I truly felt bad for Chris and Krissy Ball, who alleged their bookkeeper stole almost $1.6 million over 12 years.

A final note: I have been told that the Gazette is the only local paper unafraid to look at controversial topics and hold officials accountable. I don’t know how true that is, but I know I couldn’t do it without the help of the many people willing to talk to me. Thank you for letting me tell the stories that need to be told, and I look forward to continuing in 2019.

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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