The dilemma facing the new owner of the Ashland Book Exchange is an example of what can happen when government tries to protect the public interest but winds up trampling it instead.

Book Exchange owner Roy Laird has until Friday to remove a mural on the outside wall of his shop because the city considers it a "sign," and he already has two signs on the awning he erected to promote his business. 

Never mind that the mural, which depicts a small tree, a birdhouse, a frog, bees and birds, includes no lettering at all. City officials say it's a sign, and it must be obscured.

Laird did have the option of appealing to the city's Public Arts Commission to have the mural declared public art, in which case it could remain. But there's a catch: That would mean the building's owner would be donating the art to the city, which would then have control over what happened to it.

In other words, if the owner eventually leased the building to a different business and wanted to paint over the mural, the city could say no.

Needless to say, Laird does not want to encumber his landlord with an obligation the owner might come to regret, let alone the time and effort involved in an appeal process when he's just begun operating the business.

So Laird will paint over the mural, and residents and visitors will be denied the pleasure of a whimsical bit of art gracing a commercial building in a town widely known for, well, the arts. It's too bad city officials can't apply a little common sense and let their ordinance bend with the circumstances.