Tell town officials — not Facebook — about road conditions

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LIVERMORE — If residents have a problem with roads during or following a snowstorm, they are much better off calling their public works department instead of complaining to Facebook.

On Friday, before all of the pre-Thanksgiving Day snowstorm was completely cleared, a number of people in Livermore posted complaints and nasty comments on their personal Facebook pages instead of calling the highway garage to report problem streets. It was so bad, Highway Foreman Roger Ferland asked Administrative Assistant Carrie Castonguay to issue a plea to residents to better direct complaints. Facebook is not going to help.

According to Castonguay, highway employees were out plowing and sanding during the storm and were still hard at it on Friday. “They do the best they can,” she said on Tuesday, and want to know about problem areas.

“One of the locations that was complained about is a spot where it’s very shady and gets no sun, and it’s kind of in a cold area,” Castonguay said, “so it freezes quicker there than other areas of the road.”

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And, since it was such a nasty storm, the heavy, wet snow had turned to ice in the travel lanes along the roads where it was hard to scrape clean, she said.

Facebook receives a lot of complaints about poor roads, most on personal pages, but some do land on the limited number of municipal Facebook accounts established by towns in Maine.

According to Eric Conrad, director of communication and educational services for the Maine Municipal Association, when MMA conducts its Social Media Dos and Don’ts workshops, it tells members that having interactive Facebook pages is an up-front consideration before establishing the page because the formats require different levels of monitoring and attention.

MMA doesn’t respond to comments or encourage them on its own page.

After last week’s storm, there was only one comment on Portland’s Facebook page about road conditions, and it wasn’t nice.

The sarcastic post complained about the lack of a parking ban, calling the streets a mess and informing “Public works you guys all S*%k.”

In Augusta, a single post was more thorough but no less critical. The poster suggested the city “rethink” its snow removal plan and not plow the streets at “2:00 AM when people are trying to sleep so they can go to work without nodding off at the desk or on a ladder. …But last night 2 Tractors Idling and revving engines while the drivers shouted and hooted back at each other for over an hour was beyond absurdity.”

The same poster suggested that if Portland can get its street clean in daylight, so can Augusta. And, if not, then “Go Idle tractors under LePage’s window and see how long that lasts.”

The only post on Rumford’s Facebook page was a question: “How do I know when the parking ban is in effect, and where can I park when it is? I live on Cumberland St.”

This kind of interaction is what Livermore hoped to prompt when Castonguay established the town’s Facebook page several weeks ago.

She said the page is intended to offer outreach, such as telling residents dogs need to be licensed in December and thanking 1,200 voters for turning out on Election Day. On Monday, Castonguay posted the results of a bid to buy an old municipal trailer, and thanked all bidders for their offers.

It’s more of a bulletin board, she said, which is an idea she got from the Ellsworth Police Department during a fall MMA workshop. “One of the detectives said they had reunited every single lost dog with its owner” through Facebook, noting that the town of 8,000 had 10,000 followers. “It’s a great resource if used properly,” Castonguay said, and she hoped to foster constructive interaction between town officials and residents.

The Dixfield Police Department is trying the same approach, posting a reminder on Thanksgiving Day for drivers to “brush the snow off from all your windows, not just the front windshield. Give yourself some extra time to get where you are going. Your family wants you there in one piece, they won’t care if you are late.”

In Auburn and Lewiston, police department Facebook pages post notices about parking bans and traffic detours, among other things, conforming to MMA suggestions about disseminating time-sensitive information.

As the snowstorm began last Wednesday, in addition to a Happy Thanksgiving message, Lewiston posted a video shot from Sgt. Robert Ullrich’s cruiser camera showing slippery road conditions, reporting a couple of minor accidents and urging people to drive slowly. It was a post that garnered a written “thank you” from one Lewiston resident.

The rush to post complaints on Facebook is not unique to Maine.

When the people of Hamburg, N.Y., were trapped in their homes after seven feet of snow fell over a period of four days in late November, many people who still had power used that energy to slam the town’s Facebook page with hundreds of complaints, muted by spurts of compliments, according to The Buffalo News.

In Kenora, Ontario, Canada, an entire Facebook page is devoted to public complaints about snow removal. The last complaint was posted Dec. 3, 2013.

In Livermore, one of the people who bantered with a complainer on Facebook is a town official, which riled Ferland.

MMA’s recommendation for employees? “It is a good idea to refrain from sending or posting information that you would not want your supervisor or other employees to read, or that you would be embarrassed to see in a newspaper.”

Also included in MMA’s guidelines is a reminder that whatever gets posted on social media — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others — “is public and may be so for a long time,” suggesting that longevity is worth thinking about before posting.

Conrad estimated that between 25 and 30 towns in Maine have adopted its guidelines in monitoring and interacting on social media.

For anyone with road complaints in Livermore, the number at the Highway Garage is 897-6659.

If the need is urgent, Castonguay asks them to call the non-emergency number at the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department at 753-2500, press 8 on the menu and ask them to contact Ferland.

dperry@sunjournal.com

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