The Muckraker of Coppell

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

The city at the time was under attack by the Breakfast Club, which included firefighters in its informal membership. Kwast and others were sending letters to the local papers berating them for not reporting another embarrassing lawsuit the city had lost, this one to a home builder who accused Coppell of double-billing for sewer hookups.

In response, city leaders launched their own letter-writing campaign and enlisted Moore and his column to discredit the Breakfast Club, which they considered a fringe element interested only in bringing the community down. In an effort to discredit Kwast, always the most vocal of the Breakfast Clubbers, the mayor erroneously told the council during its weekly meeting at city hall that Kwast was just a bitter man who had been removed from the Board of Adjustment several years earlier, after his actions on the board got the city into a lawsuit. Kwast had in fact been removed from the board, ostensibly for having a belligerent attitude. But the lawsuit in question had been filed before Kwast ever served on the board.

Through the battle, Kent Moore was city hall's mouthpiece. But when the three firefighters settled their lawsuit with the city, he had an epiphany. Going back over the events, Moore says he realized that the city line had been wrong and the firefighters had been mistreated.

Moore went down to McDonald's and apologized to the firefighters and to the Breakfast Club. He wrote a column about the city's inability to admit mistakes.

"I quickly learned that government doesn't apologize," he says. "I learned that what they were telling me about the Breakfast Club wasn't true. All they [the Breakfast Club] wanted was open government, for city officials to obey the law and to treat people right. Our city council had a hard time doing that."

In April 1993, two weeks before the city election, a councilman introduced a prayer resolution, which Moore considered an act of demagoguery. An avowed atheist, Moore spoke out against the resolution at the next city council meeting. His change in status in the eyes of the city leaders became clear when two council members told him they voted for the resolution just so people wouldn't think they were agreeing with him.

Shortly thereafter, Moore says, the Gazette began waffling on its support of his column and he quit. (Moore believes his editors were under pressure from the city council but offers no proof. His editor at the time is no longer with the Gazette and could not be reached for comment.)

By then, Moore had been out of a steady day job for three years. He became a stockbroker for a while, then worked for a musical instruments store--but couldn't make enough money at either to support his family and make his house payment.

On July 4, 1993, while watching the annual Coppell Fourth of July Parade, Moore turned to his wife and told her he had decided what to do with his life--start his own newspaper. He had already filed bankruptcy and sold his Mercedes; what did he have to lose? The North Texas Community Journal was born--with a $600 investment of Moore's personal savings.

"There comes a time in life when you get to do something significant--and I did it," says Moore. "Some would say it was foolish."

Moore wasted no time ruffling feathers. In his second issue, he chronicled a slander suit that Arthur Kwast filed, without an attorney, against former Coppell mayor Mark Wolfe, for erroneously claiming Kwast had caused the city to be sued when he was on the Board of Adjustment. Digging out the minutes of old city council meetings, Moore quoted the former mayor suggesting during one meeting that the council members silence their critics by boycotting newspapers that continued to run Kwast's letters.

Then Moore published the saga of the Longbranch and the Lone Star, two bars on land the city annexed a decade earlier. Johnny Thompson, a mechanic and decorated Vietnam War veteran, owned the land under the Longbranch. When the city wouldn't give him the water main he needed to be in compliance with the law while attempting to get him shut down, Thompson filed a suit to disannex his part of the city.

"They didn't like me because they thought I was just a dumb mechanic," says the gravelly-voiced Thompson. "But hell, after you've played Russian roulette with a gook, you sure aren't afraid to take on city hall."

Johnny Robinson, a wealthy landowner who owned the property on which the Lone Star bar sits, joined the disannexation lawsuit. He was particularly furious at the city, because he had learned the city police had him under surveillance for several months, which one disgusted officer labeled a witch hunt.

Thompson went on to settle his suit in his favor--the city is supposed to put in his water main by January 1, for free--and Kwast went on to extract $22,000 in a settlement from the former mayor. Kwast's settlement agreement also required the former mayor and a city councilman to make a public apology. While the other three papers buried the apologies in the legal notices sections, Moore printed them prominently in the Community Journal.

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