Postmaster General pledges no post office closures during postal reform but closes post offices anyway

September 25, 2013

On September 19, Postmaster General Donahoe testified to the Senate Homeland Security Committee about the state of the Postal Service and the dire need for legislation.  During his testimony, the PMG made a pledge not to close post offices or processing plants while Congress debated postal reform.  It’s not a pledge the PMG is likely to keep.  In fact, he was already breaking it even as he made it.

The PMG’s promise about not closing facilities occurred during an exchange with Montana Senator Jon Tester.  (It occurs at 1:16:55 in the video.  The exchange was also reported on KPAX News.)  Here’s how it went:

Senator Tester: Is there going to be further consolidation of mail processing facilities or post offices while we're doing this legislation and debate in committee?

PMG Donahoe: No [very quiet, barely audible].  The bill as it's written puts a two-year freeze on mail processing facilities.  We have some scheduled for 2014.  We would not advance any of those things to try to get under the wire.  From a post office perspective, when I visited Montana last year, people told us, “Keep our offices open, keep our local identity.  If you have to change window time, we understand that but give us access to mail.”   And we've done that.

Senator Tester: Fair.  So what you're saying is there wouldn't be any post office, mail processing centers closed while we're debating this bill before it becomes law?

PMG Donahoe: [Interjects “No, No” while Tester is speaking, then says:] Nope, we've done what we needed to do for this year, and if any further changes require service standard changes we will not do that.

If there was any ambiguity in the Postmaster General’s pledge not to close post offices and facilities, consider this exchange a little later in the hearing (at 1:24:27).  The PMG is responding to a question from Senator Heitkamp of North Dakota, who had been asking about opportunities for digital innovation.

Senator Heitkamp: I only have a few more seconds here. I do want to point out that if you close every rural post office in North Dakota, you won't have an opportunity [for digital innovation].

PMG Donahoe (interrupting): There's no proposal to close any post offices.  As a matter of fact, in your state we are expanding some post offices, Williston and a few others, because of the oil boom.  We're responding to that and there's no interest in closing post offices — you've never heard me say that.  We've made changes in the POStPlan that helps us in the bottom line perspective, but it gives customers what they're asking for — access to post offices and rural town identity.

Mr. Donahoe’s pledge not to close post offices did not go unnoticed. Senator Tester’s website immediately featured a press release entitled, “Tester Secures Major Concession From Top Postal Service Official.”  It begins like this:

“Senator Jon Tester, the nation's number one defender of reliable mail service in rural America, today secured a major victory for Montana's rural mail customers.  Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe pledged to Tester that the Postal Service would not close any more post offices or mail processing facilities while Congress debates postal reform legislation.”

It should be pretty clear then that the Postmaster General pledged not to close post offices while Congress debates reform.  Unfortunately, that pledge was being broken virtually as the PMG was making it.  The Postal Service is busy closing post offices.  

Here are just a few examples of closures and pending closures, from the days before and after the PMG’s testimony.  Considering that the debate on postal reform has been going on for two years now and will probably drag on for many more months, expect this list to keep on growing. 

What we have here is a failure to communicate: Learning from Jekyll Island

September 24, 2013


On September 12, we reported this story on Jekyll Island, Georgia, where the Postal Service apparently attempted to end delivery service for the island’s residents and businesses in exchange for maintaining a post office.  The island is owned by the state and administered by the Jekyll Island Authority.  The attorney for JIA in charge of negotiations with the Postal Service thought the post office might be closed and trading away home delivery was the best way to keep it open.  Many people in the community disagreed and argued that JIA had no right to make this tradeoff.

In an undated letter delivered to Jekyll Island residents on September 18, the Postal Service reversed course and announced that both delivery service and the location and hours of the present post office would remain the same, at least for now.

The letter, signed by USPS District Manager Charles J. Miller, begins by saying: “There has been some misinformation recently circulating in your community regarding the future of mail delivery service on Jekyll Island.”

The misinformation Mr. Miller refers to began when the JIA circulated a letter indicating that the JIA had decided, after discussions with the Postal Service, to trade the residents’ current city delivery for guarantees that the island would continue to have a post office, which will soon relocate to space the JIA owns in the island’s historic district.  Those discussions were laid out in a series of e-mails between Chris O’Donnell, the JIA attorney, and Damian Rawski, postmaster for Brunswick, Georgia, the office that administers mail service on Jekyll Island.

The announcement of the proposed trade-off stirred local residents to action and generated news coverage by the Jacksonville-based Florida-Times Union as well as Save the Post Office.  Officials at the USPS North Florida District in Jacksonville did not respond for requests for clarification from STPO, and they told residents that they had no knowledge of the negotiations between Mr. O’Donnell and Postmaster Rawski, even though a chain of e-mails indicates that Frank Stephens, Manager of Operations Programs Support, was cc’ed throughout.  In the letter from Mr. Miller, Mr. Stephens is also listed as the postal contact for any questions the residents may have.

Still left unresolved is the ultimate fate of the post office on Jekyll Island.  The office is currently housed in a temporary trailer with a lease running through May of 2014.  The JIA has indicated that the temporary trailers, which also house other Jekyll Island businesses, will be removed after a new shopping center is completed.  In a meeting of the JIA on Monday, September 16, C. Jones Hooks, the executive director of JIA, stated that the authority would leave the matter of delivery up to the Postal Service, according to Bonnie Newell, a resident who attended the meeting.  No mention was made of the JIA’s previous offer to house the post office in the historic district.

It appears for the moment that the issues on Jekyll Island have been resolved by maintaining the status quo.  That’s good news for the folks on the island, but what happened on Jekyll Island illustrate several problems with how the Postal Service operates, and it’s not good news for those concerned about the future of postal services in this country.


"Makes no sense at all": Ewa Beach Post Office headed for closure

September 20, 2013

The Postal Service has announced plans to close the Ewa Station post office on Renton Road in Ewa Beach, West Oahu, Hawaii.  In its “proposal to close,” the Postal Service gives two reasons: There are alternate sites within a short radius, and “over the past several years, this office has experienced low or declining revenue and/or volume.” 

It should come as little surprise that revenues at the Ewa Station have been declining.  Several years ago, the hours at the post office were reduced from eight a day to half a day, and then in 2011 they were reduced to just two hours a day, noon to 2 p.m., with no hours at all on Saturday.

Even operating just ten hours a week, the Ewa Station post office does pretty well.  From 2008 through 2012, revenues averaged about $96,000 a year.  The annual cost savings will be something like $48,000 or $60,000 — the proposal to close provides two contradictory numbers — which means that it costs about that much to run the office.  In other words, the Ewa Station makes a profit on the order of around $40,000 a year.

Postal Service closes Stamford CT post office: A "relocation" with no new location

September 20, 2013

The Postal Service is closing the historic 1916 post office in Stamford, Connecticut, on Friday — without ever having conducted a discontinuance study.

That’s because the Postal Service classified the closing as a “relocation” rather than a “discontinuance.”  Relocation decisions are covered by a different set of postal regulations, which are much less stringent than the regulations for closures, and as a result, the community had much less opportunity to offer input.  

The Postal Service is closing the post office without a new location in place because it has finally found a buyer.  Details of the sale have not been made public, but the Stamford Advocate reports that the building has been purchased by the Cappelli Organization, a White Plains development firm that joined with Thomas Rich to build the 34-story Trump Parc luxury high-rise that opened in 2009.

Cappelli says it plans to preserve the oldest part of the post office building, which dates to 1916, but it wants to tear down a 1939 addition to the post office — a proposal that has drawn opposition from preservationists in the past.  The post office is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Postal Service conducted the relocation process on Stamford two years ago.  When it held the public meeting in August of 2010, David Rouse, a real estate specialist for the Postal Service, explained that the Atlantic Street building has 38,000 square feet, while a new retail office would need only 3,600 square feet.  Mr. Rouse said it was too early to say where the new location would be.

Only a couple of dozen people attended the 2010 meeting.  But that wasn’t for lack of interest in the community.

"The announcement of this meeting was the best kept secret in Stamford," city Rep. John Zelinsky told the Stamford Advocate. "If you're going to have a public hearing, you've got to let the public know about it." 

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