FARMINGTON — After a lengthy discussion, selectpersons voted three to two to approve the installation of two signs on Bailey Hill Road and have the town’s attorney draft a liability waiver for the signs.

A motion was first made to erect School Bus Stop signs while the town’s attorney was consulted and Selectman Scott Landry, who is a state legislative representative, checked out what could be done at the state level.

Town Manager Richard Davis then said to put up the requested signs and draft the liability waiver to not prolong the issue.

Selectman Joshua Bell and Chairman Matthew Smith were opposed to the second motion. Selectmen Stephan Bunker, Michael Fogg and Scott Landry were in favor.

Smith said he had to follow the information he had and Bell thought more due diligence was needed.

Jean Mason came before the board to ask for clarification on two signs that had been installed and then removed.

“I have three boys, two have special needs,” she said. “One is 16, autistic and non-verbal. He tends to wander, can be aggressive when agitated. It takes both my husband and me to put him on, take him off the bus.”

Mason said she had approached public works about warning signs because of the possibility of him getting in or near the road.

A few months ago, a sign Autistic Child at Play was put up near her home on Bailey Hill Road and a month later a second sign was installed on the other side, then a couple of weeks ago both signs were taken down, she said.

“The signs were not what I wanted. It’s definitely not a child at play situation at my house. I preferred Caution Autistic Child,” Mason said. “There was no explanation, no phone calls. Now there are no signs and I’ve been told several different things: those signs don’t really work, they’re not successful in warning people, that people don’t pay attention to them.

“I can absolutely tell you that no signs are definitely not going to warn people.”

Neighbors have asked why the signs were taken down and know their importance, Mason said.

“It’s literally life and death for my son. It’s not a luxury I’m asking for,” she said. “40% of autistic children are nonverbal. Nearly half of them have the tendency to wander, have no concept of safety. One of every 65 children is autistic. This is no small matter, it’s not just my family.”

Mason said she was raised in Farmington, is part of the community and deserves being supported.

Davis said he had the signs taken down.

“The public works director put them up without my knowledge,” Davis said. “I would have told him not to put them up. We get requests for these signs all the time. They’re not standard, they’re non-regulatory signs, they send mixed messages.

The signs have no enforcement behind them and provide a false sense of security that could potentially open the town up to some liability, Davis said.

“I do sympathize with your situation, am very sorry that you have to go through that,” he said. “I follow advice put out by the Federal Highway Safety Administration and the manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The Department of Transportation strongly advises against those types of signs as do other regulatory agencies followed.”

Davis said putting up the signs would be against legal advice.

“I don’t want to seem harsh or cold. I’m looking out for the town as a whole,” he said. “It’s the larger picture I’m looking at.”

If one is put up, the town could get requests for 100 more, Davis said.

“They’re not effective, send mixed messages, could be more harmful than not,” he added.

Bunker said he tries to do due diligence, looked for some traffic study on the issue.

“I came up short,” he said.

Signs aren’t going to change Mason’s son’s behavior and she’d be left with a false sense of security, Bunker said.

“I don’t have a solution for you,” he said. “You’re asking me to ignore state standards and legal advice on this.”

It’s okay to have cattle crossing signs but not warning signs for my son, who is a part of this community, Mason asked.

Mason said she had spoken with MDOT and was told the town doesn’t take on any responsibility unless there is something due to the conditions of the road itself.

“I’m not asking the town to take on any liability. I’m happy to sign a waiver,” she said. “I’m under no false presumption that the signs are absolutely going to keep my son safe. But if there is a way to keep my son safe it should be taken.”

Bell was concerned the signs would lose their effectiveness.

“What is 100% not effective is putting up no sign at all,” Mason said. “If one person slows down passing that sign, saves my son’s life, that’s worth it to me.”

 

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