Muckraker p.

By: M.L. Stein 70-year-old retired geologist, now a monthly newspaper
publisher, throws Nazi salute and shouts 'Heil Hitler'
at mayor who refused to let him speak at a public meeting sp.

THOMAS TARTER, THE fiercely independent publisher of a Roswell, N.M., newspaper, stands by his right to cover a city council meeting while voicing his opinion on local issues as a taxpayer.
His conviction on the matter is so strong that he threw a Nazi salute and yelled "Heil Hitler" at Mayor William Brainerd, who refused to let him speak during a discussion about awarding a liquor license.
Tarter, a 70-year-old retired geologist who owns the free monthly TAT-ler, was tossed out of the meeting but returned and shouted at the mayor again.
This was too much for Brainerd, a lawyer, who had him arrested for "disturbing a lawful assembly." A municipal judge found him guilty and gave him a six-month suspended sentence.
That was in May. Recently, State District Judge Alvin Jones overturned the lower court ruling.
"He ruled that the policy of barring members of the press from speaking because they are members of the press is obviously unconstitutional," said Tarter's attorney, Ray Twohig.
The episode was nothing new to Tarter, who deliberately sits in the audience section rather than at the press table during council meetings.
About three years ago, he clashed with Brainerd regarding his right to speak about a golf course water hazard and was ousted from the session, accused of unlawful behavior.
Another municipal judge convicted him and gave him a choice of a $220 fine or 44 days in jail. Tarter took the jail time. He fasted behind bars for five days before friends paid the fine.
"Jail doesn't frighten me," he said. "I'm divorced. I have no family here, no cat, no dog. I'll keep on asking the hard questions at council meetings that no one else seems to want to ask."
Tarter also has no advertising, saying he wants his tabloid to be free of any possible outside pressure.
That policy, he disclosed, has driven his bank account down to $2,000. The TATler, he explained, is kept alive by donations of friends and supporters who share his view that the council must be more accountable to voters.
Brainerd declined to be interviewed for this article.
"I have no comment," he said.
His reticence may have evolved from a federal civil rights lawsuit that Tarter has filed against him and assistant police chief Michael Jurecek. The complaint says the publisher is being deprived of his First Amendment right to speak at council meetings and his Fourth Amendment right was violated when he was arrested without cause.
"Reporters have lives outside of their jobs," said Twohig, who is representing Tarter in the suit. "They live in neighborhoods, are members of organizations and have a stake in their communities, especially in small towns."
The Albuquerque lawyer said Tarter has been a spokesman for retired people in Roswell and, as an avid golfer, takes a special interest in the operation of the city's golf course.
"But he's also a muckraker and a pain in the ass to the mayor, who wants to stop him from talking so much," Twohig added.
He said Brainerd invoked an old council policy of not permitting the press to ask questions until the meeting is over.
"They want to take away Tom's separate rights as a citizen," Twohig said.
Tarter, who grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., said he had no intention of starting a newspaper when he moved to Roswell four years ago.
But he became so disillusioned with city government that he began expressing his feelings in little notes tacked to a bulletin board in front of his house.
"People actually came over and read them and then phoned that they agreed with me," the publisher said.
Buoyed by such interest, Tarter bought space in a community shopper for $150 an issue. Eventually, he and a local doctor put up $500 each to launch a newsletter that developed into the TATler, a paper that, in its way, smacks the eye like a supermarket tabloid.
Subtitled "Roswell's Nitty Gritty News," a recent issue featured a front page containing only a vertical series of teaser headlines of inside stories. Among them were "Jersey City Did It! Can We?," a look at the defeat of legendary mayor and political boss Frank Hague in that New Jersey city with the inference that Brainerd could suffer the same fate; "Stiffed by the School Board," a swipe at three newly elected board members who voted for contracts worth $1 million "before their seat cushions were even slightly warm;" and "New Postage Stamp," which turned out to be a photo of Brainerd adorning a cartoon "No Cents" stamp with the inscription "Wily Willy, Defender of Liberty."
Page one did carry another item: "The TATler will pay a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest, conviction and/or recall or resignation of any elected, appointed or salaried member of the local government or a public institution in Chaves County, N.M., due to malfeasance in office."
Another issue reproduced Tarter's letter to President Clinton, imploring him to recommend that his administration turn down Roswell's "opulent" request for $600,000 in federal funds for a new civic center. The building isn't needed, he contended, adding that the money would be used better for more police protection, medical care, improved traffic control and a softer water supply. Tarter produces his paper on a desktop IBM in his home and has it printed by the Carlsbad (N.M.) Current-Argus.
There is the finest of lines between opinion and news stories in the TATler. One piece began, "The Ambulance Advisory Board held a meeting on Tues., Oct. 5th at 3:30 p.m. in City Hall." It then listed all the officials present and went on to note that an ambulance service serving the city was seeking a rate increase.
But in the fifth paragraph, the county manager is described as "bobbing and weaving" when asked by a citizen board member for more facts about the rate hike. Two other board members used "smoke & mirrors" to deflect similar questions from the citizen, who left the meeting "with much honor and glory."
Tarter, who is listed in the masthead as publisher, editor, circulation manager and "delivery boy," is modest about his publishing efforts.
"Hell," he observed, "I'm not a journalist. You can tell that by reading the paper. But my little newspaper was conceived out of a dire need for the lower echelon in Roswell to have more open communication with and about the local governments. My arrests and the judicial decisions that may follow are merely the by-products of an autocratic regime and are relatively unimportant. A government of, by and for the people must remain the ultimate goal."
Tarter believes that the city's mainstream paper, the Roswell Daily Record, which he calls the "Rag," is soft on the city government's alleged depredations, and he whacks the paper frequently in print.
"The Record handles the city's damage control," he said.
In one TATler issue, Daily Record editor Jerry McCor-mack is portrayed on a "Local Turkey Day Commemorative" stamp as "Defender of the Press." An adjoining parody has Brainerd picking McCormack as the stamp honoree although "he hasn't got the right stuffing, but Wily approves of his taste."
McCormack refused to comment.
Despite his zest for taking on city government, Tarter said he is considering giving up the paper if Brainerd is turned out of office in a March election.
"One of these days, somebody may sue the hell out of me and then where would I be?" he asked.
?( The Tatler) [ Photo & Caption]


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