The Muckraker of Coppell

How a bankrupt former musical-instrument salesman became an award-winning journalist

Moore argues his aggressive paper has forced the city government to clean up its act and has put the other newspapers in town on the right track. "The war is over and the people won," is Moore's answer to the Breakfast Club.

It seems that Kent Moore can't win. One camp is angry at him for hunting dragons. But the other camp denounces him for not swatting gnats.

But Coppell's muckraker accepts it all philosophically. People in government are going to make mistakes, he figures, and you can't call them on every one.

As his wife Linda, an English teacher at Coppell High, points out, "If both sides are mad at you, we must be doing something right."

Moore can take some solace in the fact that Coppell, which has taken as a motto, "The city with a beautiful future," has a way of taming its critics and tidying up its muckrakers.

The city with a beautiful future also has a bright, shiny present. Coppell, with its population of relatively young professionals, boasts high student test scores and a low crime rate. Then there's Coppell's dark side. Many of its residents see Coppell as an embattled haven, the critics say, so much so that the town allegedly manipulated its zoning to block the construction of a government-funded low-income housing project.

"We're the Vidor of the suburbs," complains Kwast.
The project's developers slapped the city with a $13 million lawsuit.
Bounded on all sides by natural and man-made barriers, such as Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Coppell is a city whose sprawl is naturally limited. As a result, it has managed to keep a unified community feel, unlike many of the suburban cities nearby. The tony east side is chock-a-block with new, large brick homes--the average price of which is $200,000--shoehorned onto tiny lots.

In the early 1980s, when Coppell's population started to increase and developers began sniffing around, then-mayor Andy Brown, now a GTE executive, saw the opportunity to create what he called "a dream city," modeled after Scottsdale, Arizona.

From its paving-stone intersections, white-banistered bridges, and lamp posts to its large community park, many of Coppell's amenities are the legacy of the Brown regime.

But Brown left a murkier tradition as well. He ran city hall with an autocratic hand, making many public decisions behind closed doors. His critics also accused him of being too cozy with the largest developer in town, Univest. Just when the leading newspaper at the time, The Coppell Star, began to dig into these issues, it underwent an ownership change. Later, residents learned it had been bought, in part, by Univest.

Jean Murph was a reporter for the Star back then. After trying to buy the paper herself, she quit to start her own crusading newspaper, the Citizens' Advocate. The daughter of former Texas Governor Price Daniel--a fact she did not publicize--Murph set out to take on city hall. She wrote about the mayor's myriad violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act and about the city firing all its police officers in one fell swoop, and then exposed all of the special deals the mayor had cut with Univest--behind closed doors.

In a spectacular scoop, Citizens' Advocate also uncovered the fact that a certain parcel of land the city had inexplicably slated for an industrial park, thereby qualifying it for tremendous tax breaks, was partly owned by Mayor Brown.

The Advocate's stories helped turn Brown out of office in 1984.
Ten years later, Jean Murph's Citizens' Advocate is the official paper of Coppell, the one in which the city places its bidding notices and legal advertising. To many critics, it has become a part of the problem. Kent Moore claims that the Advocate over the years has become too protective of the local power structure and has become complacent--an allegation Murph steadfastly denies.

On one thing everyone agrees: there is no shortage of political intrigue in Coppell.

As Kevin Shay, a journalist who covered Coppell for two years as a reporter for the Metrocrest News and is now an editor with the Arlington News, puts it: "It's a weird little town. There is always some issue for people to get riled up about in Coppell."

Kent Moore went through some sea changes on his way to becoming an award-winning muckraker. When Moore moved to Coppell in 1989, to become the southwestern United States district manager for a synthesizer company, he found a city that welcomed civic involvement. A business and music major from Kentucky, he jumped right in. He served on the local cable board, started a community band, was president of his homeowner's association and worked on several political campaigns.

In the early 1990s, though, he lost his job due to corporate downsizing. While he tried several different professional ventures, he also began writing a column, "Moore on Coppell," for the Coppell Gazette, owned by the Harte-Hanks chain. By Moore's own admission, he was anything but critical. "Moore on Coppell" was an upbeat, rah-rah kind of column that toed the power elite's line. For instance, Moore sided in print with the city in its fight against the local firefighters and police officers' campaign for fairer personnel practices through establishing a civil service.

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