The following article appeared in the Skagit Valley Herald, Monday, April 5, 1999, p. A3

 

ADVENTURE FOLLOWS ‘TOUGH COOKIE’

 

By Kristi Fettig

Staff Writer

 

Mount Vernon - Diana Barnett exchanged wedding vows in a hot air balloon.  She instructed a panicked mother over the phone on how to save her choking baby.  She fended off a man who came at her with a screwdriver.  And, she often apprehended criminals when she was a ranger at Yosemite National Park in California.

She’s heard every excuse in the book when it comes to dealing with bad guys.  While at Yosemite, she often nabbed people in the park for public intoxication.  She laughs remembering the excuse one man gave a judge.

“His only defense was that he was drinking American beer,” said Barnett, 45, while sipping on a latte at Starbucks in Mount Vernon last week.

 Now a county code enforcement officer in Mount Vernon, Barnett has a long resume: she’s sung in a rock band, worked as a bartender, a real estate agent, a police dispatcher, a model, a park ranger and an environmental health technician.

But Bartnett can’t top the story of how, in the mid-’80s, she and her ex-husband helped stamp out corruption among law enforcement officials within Yosemite National Park.  She was working as a park ranger, jailer and police dispatcher.  Her then-husband, Paul Berkowitz, was a park ranger and investigator.

“We uncovered inconsistencies of the tracking of a large sum of money - nearly $1.5 million after all was said and done - by our supervisors.  And despite attempts to alert higher-ups within Yosemite and the regional office, we were told to hush it up,” Barnett said.

Barnett said their tires were slashed, the power to their house was cut, their phone line was tapped, her plants were pulled up and her ex-husband testified about it in a grand jury hearing.

The ordeal lasted eight months, and her supervisor and several others were eventually fired.  It was covered by newspapers in California and, to a small degree, by The New York Times.  The television news magazine “60 Minutes” knocked on their door but never ran the story.

“She’s a tough cookie,” said Barnett’s sister, Ginger Lee, by telephone from Santa Cruz, Calif.  She said Barnett is the oldest of five and has always been tough.

“I didn’t even know about it until after the fact,” Lee said.  “I’m just really proud of her getting some of these politicians who are spending my money.”

After it blew over, Barnett said, “We had a reputation as troublemakers.  But soon we found park management who agreed with us and knew we did the right thing.”

Co-worker Sherlye Walker said, “I’ve worked with a lot of people and heard a lot of stories, but none of them as intriguing as Diana’s.  It’s like movie material to us.  To have that happen in real life would pretty much blow me away.”

Walker said Barnett’s experiences come in handy at work.

“She works really well with the public,” Walker said.  “Especially with code enforcement, people can get very volatile.  They don’t seem to get to that point when Diana’s part of it.”

Barnett said her job - responding to complaints from the public about building code infractions, septic system, people living in trailers without utilities, abandoned buildings, dumps and environmental areas- can get dangerous.

She often visits strangers on their property.  She was doing that when a frustrated man walked toward her and a co-worker with a screwdriver.  But, she said, when she backed off and explained what she was doing, the man calmed down.

Barnett moved to Anacortes in 1994 with her second husband, Spenser Barnett, 33.  She met him while both were working at property management company in Washington, D.C.

“My marriage had split up and he was a shoulder to cry on, a very dangerous combination,” she said.  She was apprehensive about the dozen years difference between the two, but said, “I act like a kid anyway.”

They moved to Anacortes because it was listed in a book of the top 20 places to live in the nation.

They married in a hot air balloon with five strangers, and had their reception  with the other passengers sitting on folding chairs in a windy tulip field.  The gondola fell over while landing, and she said, “I was probably the only bride who had grass stains on her dress.”

The couple have a dog, Brandy.

Barnett said she’s had so many jobs because she moved a lot when she was married to her first husband.  The two divorced after nine years of marriage.

Barnett intends to go back to college before she’s 50 - she’s a few credits shy of her bachelor’s degree.  Also, she wouldn’t mind being a park ranger again, but this time with a little less drama.

 

·        Reporter Kristi Fettig can be reached at 416-2153.