Murals decision shows leadership

The Tidings commends the city council and Ashland businessman Lloyd Haines for the efforts made to reinstall the murals, which can now go back up on the underside of the Lithia Way bridge near Water Street.

Haines put the murals up on the sly in 2007, partly in protest of the city's sign code, which would restrict such displays. He was forced to remove the murals &

paintings commissioned from four local artists &

but the council advised him to take the matter up with the city's Public Arts Commission.

The implication was if the proper steps were followed, the art could go back up.

A council majority voted to allow Haines to reinstall the murals and a lighting system if he secures the proper city and Oregon Department of Transportation permits, a process that will take a few months. Haines has agreed to pay the permit fees as well as the costs for reinstalling, maintaining and insuring the art. He has given the murals as a gift to the city, a gift that will cost him at least $50,000.

As Mayor John Morrison put it, "If we didn't feel there was a possibility of a positive outcome, we should not have asked him to go through the process," Morrison said.

Haines, publicly and financially chastened by his stunt, could have saved the money it will cost to re-affix the paintings, tucked tail and walked away from the whole mess. But he has rightly taken the high road and jumped through all the hoops it will take to get the art legally affixed to the bridge.

Four members of the City Council saw it the same way, with Alice Hardesty, liaison to the Public Arts Commission, acknowledging, "Nobody is trying to say this is a great way to select public art, to say the least."

Why two councilors &

Eric Navickas and Cate Hartzell &

opposed giving Haines a second chance is less clear. They have been accused (along with Hardesty) of being part of an "anti-development voting block" on the council. This is an unproductive assertion discredited by a recent Tidings analysis, but votes like this add fuel to the fire.

Hartzell's vote is consistent with her history on the council. She has been a strong advocate for gathering public input, sticking with established public processes and even avoiding action if a process has yet to be set up.

But Navickas? That's where the eyebrows go up.

"I don't like the way the process has moved forward," Navickas said. "It's against my ethic for public space and public process."

Navickas has a long history of thumbing his nose at process.

He has been arrested multiple times for protesting timber sales. In 2001, he admitted to setting off a fire alarm that triggered sprinklers and caused damage to a Jackson County Fairgrounds bathroom. The incident occurred during a Bureau of Land Management timber auction. There are mechanisms in place for challenging timber sales, including filing appeals with federal agencies and in the courts.

Navickas has plenty of legal acumen to use the appeals process, and has done so in other instances.

Most recently, he participated in "Critical Mass," in which a mob of bicyclists clogged up Ashland streets to promote the cause of self-propelled commuters.

Navickas and Haines have something in common &

dissatisfaction with existing laws and the often slow pace of change. It's sad to see a chance for understanding pass unrealized.

In a few months, when the murals are hanging again, tourists will be able to look up and be reminded of one of the great things the city has to offer: It's simply a fun place to walk around.

Residents will see solid evidence that a majority of the city council can offer second chances and approve something that's good for the city, even if they may disapprove of the way it came about.

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