By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The kicker is, unless Parkhurst stops dumping mulch and removes the pile for good, city officials say that her house is exactly what they're going to get.
At 47, Charlotte Parkhurst is remarkably fit, especially for a woman who said she had won a handsome workers compensation settlement from the state of New York because of a back injury she suffered while employed as a construction worker.
Her petite frame is well toned. A subtle indication of her age are the bags underneath her blue eyes, which light up when she forces an occasional tight smile.
On a recent afternoon, Parkhurst hovers around an island in the center of her sparkling kitchen. The position now serves as a bunker of sorts. From here, she can see out a window, past the garden of pansies in the middle of the cul-de-sac, and directly into Mike Rhoads' living-room window.
Parkhurst is clutching a trio of blue office files that contain dozens of police reports, city citations, correspondence with various city officials, and other papers that document her six-month fiasco with City Hall.
The files also contain a collection of color photographs, which she spreads out on the kitchen island. There are photos of city cars parked outside her house, lurking code inspectors, a blurry shot of a neighbor flipping her the bird, and a picture of a young cedar tree held upright by a rope.
The documents and photos, Parkhurst says, are evidence of the months of harassment she has endured from jeering neighbors, harassing code inspectors, and police officers who are united against her.
Parkhurst began the mulch project after she noticed a crack in her house's foundation and, relying solely on her experience as a construction worker, concluded that erosion was the culprit.
In researching the project, Parkhurst was happy to discover that nearby Holcomb Tree Service would deliver the mulch for free. Holcomb gives away the stuff because it's cheaper to deliver it to people like Parkhurst than to pay the city to dispose of it in a landfill.
"I was planning on bringing in 20 loads to save my trees and stop the erosion," Parkhurst says.
She concedes that she had some additional plans for her acre lot. First, Parkhurst was going to fill in a gap underneath Rhoads' chain-link fence, which extends from his house and dips down several stories as it divides the two properties. Once the fence was secured, Parkhurst was going to pile mulch on her side of the hill and create a yard.
"We were gonna have a yard between us. We were going to go as far as the corner of the house and make that level," she says. "We were going to have a fountain. We were going to put a pond down there with goldfish."
In May, when Parkhurst began the project, she and Rhoads were getting along just swell. The only weird thing, she says, is that Rhoads kept calling her "Gladys." The nickname, it turns out, was inspired by Gladys Kravitz--the nosy neighbor of Bewitched fame.
"I didn't know what in the hell he was talking about," Parkhurst says. "Once he got to know me, everything was cool. We'd go out to eat. He loves to bake and cook. I like to bake and cook. We would share recipes. Whenever he'd go somewhere, like to the market, he'd call and see if I wanted to go."
Parkhurst says she never suspected anything unusual about Rhoads. "Every time we went to a party at his house, he always had a woman hanging on him.
"We've always had a gay couple that lives in the valley, and we've always had a lesbian couple on the other side of the valley," Parkhurst says. "But we've never had any problems."
From the beginning, Parkhurst contends, her plan was a joint venture done with Rhoads' cooperation. And, she says, the project was going along just fine until one neighbor stuck his nose into their business.
The neighbor is Bill McCord, president of the Piedmont-Scyene Neighborhood Association, who is best known in Dallas for leading a fight to save 65 acres of virgin forest from the bulldozers of Tri-City Hospital.
To Parkhurst, McCord is a conniving brute whose ultimate goal is to turn the neighborhood into a gay complex. She believes he has friends in high places who are helping him, namely City Council member Larry Duncan. McCord and Duncan, she believes, were "an item" before Duncan was elected to the council.
And how does she know this? The question causes Parkhurst to cast her eyes downward and pick at an invisible piece of dirt underneath a manicured fingernail.
"Well, I was told they lived together by one of the neighbors," Parkhurst says. "If you see Larry Duncan in a meeting, Bill McCord isn't far behind."
What's more, she continues, after Duncan got elected, he appointed Betty Wadkins to the City Plan Commission--the agency responsible for drafting an ordinance that Parkhurst believes was aimed at her mulch pile and designed to get her in trouble with the law. Just recently, she says, she learned that Wadkins just happens to be McCord's aunt, "either through incest or marriage."