City Reporter 

City Reporter

By the Book

Prince Mongo breaks no rules with home decorations.

By Janel Davis

For anyone wanting to imitate the decor of Prince Mongo's Colonial Acres home, as initially reported in last week's Flyer, city officials say it is your choice.

The "palace" of the prince (real name: Robert Hodges), at 925 Colonial, includes such front-yard amenities as animal heads, Halloween decorations, streamers, and a "bean poll" to pick your least-favorite politician.

"Every day, it's something different," says Jennifer Tobias, who lives in the neighborhood. "He currently has a collection of white chairs in the yard, and last Saturday, a group of elderly people came and sat in the chairs all day long. I don't know what he was trying to say with that. We don't want him to define the neighborhood."

But Tobias and other residents can complain about Mongo's antics until they're blue in the face. According to the Building Department of Code Enforcement, homeowners can decorate their property as they see fit. Only neighborhoods or homes deemed historic or landmarks are governed by building regulations.

Mary L. Baker of the city's Division of Planning and Development also points out that some neighborhood homeowners' associations adopt rules, submitted by the developer, that are drawn up when subdivisions are started.

"[Some] developers record legal documents with certain neighborhood guidelines. Sometimes Planning and Development doesn't know about these rules," says Baker. "If it's not our requirement, we don't enforce it and don't get involved [in disputes]."

Colonial Acres is not governed by such private development rules and therefore its residents must only abide by Planning and Development's zoning and subdivision regulations. Zoning covers the uses permitted on a piece of property -- for example, residential or commercial structures. Yard size and building height are also covered under zoning laws. Subdivision laws regulate the location of lots and the layout of a neighborhood.

As far as zoning and subdivision requirements, Prince Mongo is in compliance.

But do the same rules apply to home-renters? Tax assessor records list 925 Colonial as belonging to Michael Hodges, Mongo's brother. Although it is unknown whether Mongo has entered into a rental agreement with his brother, Baker says home improvements would be determined by the homeowner and designated in the rental agreement. By the looks of things, Michael is a very liberal landlord.

Neither of the Hodges brothers could be reached for comment before press time.

Going Down In Germantown

Playwright claims Satan has nothing to do with Vagina Monologues.

By Chris Davis

The national tour of Playwright Eve Ensler's bona fide phenomenon The Vagina Monologues opens at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre on June 25th with Margot Kidder as the star vagina. Although Ensler's play -- and the movement to end violence against women that has grown up around it -- is now seven years old and has been produced by over 800 companies worldwide in the past year alone, the surprisingly clinical name still carries a certain amount of shock value. A recent letter to The Commercial Appeal from an angry Germantown woman even declared The Vagina Monologues to be the work of Satan.

"This happens in every town the show goes to," Ensler says, noting that she's seen similar reactions in Great Britain as the production has moved from the cities to the provinces. "How can anybody think about the vagina as Satan? What do vaginas most represent? Life. It's where we come from. I bet those same people [wouldn't respond negatively] if you put anthrax on the [cover of the newspaper] or nuclear bombs. We're all so deeply and unconsciously attached to death. I hope people will come see [the play] and not just sit back and pass judgment on it."

When asked whether or not he had any dealings with Satan while booking The Vagina Monologues, GPAC's executive producer, Albert Pertalion, replies, "[GPAC's] not presenting the show. It's a producer from Indiana who is renting our space. We're a 501(c) 3 organization and cannot say no to a rental because of the name of the play. We do still live in America. [Besides], Eve Ensler gives most of her proceeds to charity, especially the V-Day Foundation for battered women."

Not only does Ensler donate proceeds to charity, these national tours actually donate proceeds to local charities within the community they are performing. Proceeds from the GPAC performance will go to benefit the local YWCA.

"We've been able to support not only local groups working to stop violence against women but also start a movement," says Ensler. "Now we have started a movement and have all these women around the world working to stop violence."

A Stink About Steeds

Police horses are nasty but necessary.

By Tony Jones

While Rickey Peete, head of the Beale Street Merchants Association, has been complaining recently about the parking privileges of horse carriages on Beale, downtown residents, visitors, and workers will tell you another group of steeds -- the Memphis Police Department horses -- really leave an impression when they're on patrol.

A trolley driver relates, "I saw one stop and urinate near Gordon Biersch, and people were outside eating! I mean, have you ever seen a horse urinate? It's not something that's easy to ignore. Especially while you're eating."

Pedestrians can often step in more solid surprises when walking on the mall, given the lack of greenways downtown. The carriage horses wear diaper bags, but the police horses quit using them several years ago, says Charles Cook, MPD deputy chief of special operations.

"When they do their business, we have a car we call," he explains. "Unlike the carriages, our horses have nothing to balance the bag against. And it can be gruesome after a couple of hours. Remember, when we did have them, they were at nose height. We felt it was better to let it fall to the ground and call our guy to pick it up. It usually takes about 10-15 minutes at the most for them to get there and clean it up."

The police steeds aren't downtown every day. "We're generally detailed in the parks, but they're indispensable for crowd control," says Cook. "They can see above vehicles, which is a tremendous help in catching car thieves during events. And they're amazing at extracting a suspect from a crowd. I don't know what we'd do without them."

No Idle Time

Conservancy holds first meeting about Shelby Farms.

By Mary Cashiola

Although Shelby Farms will remain virtually the same for the next year, plans are shaping up for the 4,450-acre tract to become Shelby Park in July.

The Shelby Park Conservancy held its first meeting last week, and its chairman, Ron Terry, says that he is guardedly optimistic at the outset.

"There won't be any idle time for the conservancy between now and July 1st," he says. The conservancy must do a variety of things, from working out a plan with the current board of the Agricenter on how to deal with the Agricenter's assets to putting new payroll systems in place. The Agricenter Commission and the Shelby Farms board will be dissolved in lieu of the conservancy and the Shelby Park Foundation.

The switch had to be approved by the county commission and was contingent upon changing statutes at the state level.

"One of the obstacles we had to overcome was [that] people in the legislature have a lot on their plate right now. It was a matter of asking them to focus on a bill that needs passing," says Terry.

The bill is expected to pass easily when the state legislature resumes session. Locally, the ordinance has been voted on by the county commission but has not had its final reading, which will make it official.

"I'm more optimistic we'll get this all together in time," says Terry.

The conservancy is also in the process of finding a company to design a master plan for the park. The group sent out requests for qualifications a few weeks ago and expects to choose a planner by mid-July.

Any master plan that is proposed will be subject to approval by both the conservancy and the county commission. Even when that vision is approved, it's going to take time to build Shelby Farms into the park the conservancy dreams about.

"The conservancy of New York's Central Park has been at it for 20 years; they're still at it. They took over an old park that was run down and rebuilt it," says Terry. "I don't see a lot of change for the whole park in the next year. It's going to be a year of getting a plan in place to be able to roll this time next year. I really see it as a 20- to 30-year vision."

With the change looming large on the horizon, many at the park have been concerned about Shelby Farms' volunteer program as well as what would happen to its paid staff. The staff are currently county employees.

"I imagine the vast majority of the people who work there now will be offered jobs in the conservancy," says Terry. He also expects the conservancy to put together an effort to recruit even more volunteers than before. Some of the current volunteers were worried the program would be discontinued.

At the meeting, the conservancy approved using the existing procedures for Shelby Farms, the Agricenter, and the Showplace Arena in daily operations. It also put together a meeting schedule and set up committees.

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