Gift of art causes political dilemma

"Don't ask, don't tell" will not work in this case. Ashland businessman and lawyer Lloyd Haines made sure of that.

Haines' commissioned art project is a generous endowment given to the city, but given in such a way that the city might try to send it back. History tells us that France's "gift" of the Statue of Liberty caused similar angst, so we can only hope that the eight mural paintings Haines commissioned and hung on the underside of the Lithia Way overpass will have similar staying power.

The murals are a violation of the city's sign ordinance, though common sense makes it clear they have nothing to do with the sign ordinance. Haines does not operate a business that will benefit from the advertising, nor do the murals offer anything other than a great example of privately funded public art.

Haines intended the art to serve two purposes: To further enhance his renovation projection now known as Bluebird Park, and to challenge city regulations that lack common sense applications.

The sign ordinance is designed to maintain a low-key sophistication and similarity of business signage, a step many cities use to create a consistent image downtown. But in this instance &

and some would point to many other less dramatic instances as well &

the application of the ordinance is misguided, which Haines knows more than most. He wanted this issue moved to the front-burner.

It is hard to blame Haines for bypassing the hassle of variances and public debate. Had Haines put the art up and said nothing, sooner or later someone with an axe to grind would have complained to the city, which then would have had to enforce its ordinance. It seems to work that way.

This time, Haines, a veteran of these public battles, decided to fire the first shot. Knowing of the news value, he tipped the story to the Tidings, which he also knows will help rally public support. Further, he does not have to wait for someone else to notify the city.

Now Haines will await the city's response, but with the public very much aware of the potential cost. A significant public art display could be forced to be removed despite it doing no harm to anyone and contributing much to the city.

Common sense tells us that someone can craft a revision to make allowances for public art, and tell Haines, "thank you." But, history tells us the quagmire will spin in many different ways before any conclusion is reached. The outcome will say a great deal about how much this small town and its leaders can still make reasonable decisions that benefit the greater good.

Sit back and watch. This ought to be interesting.

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