August 28, 2013
The Postal Service has a long history of using manufactured problems over lease negotiations to close post offices by emergency suspension, to initiate a discontinuance procedure, and to justify relocations to smaller spaces. The Postal Service typically tells the media that the landlord terminated the lease or the parties couldn’t come to an agreement. Just as typically, the landlord reveals that the Postal Service really wasn’t interested in renewing the lease to begin with.
This happens all the time. Over the past few days, three more cases have been reported in the media — in New Canaan, Connecticut; Aripeka, Florida, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The stories are strikingly similar.
“No interest in staying” in New Canaan
Last week the postmaster told the New Canaan Advertiser that the post office would need to find a new location because the lease is expiring on January 31, 2014, and the lease negotiations broke down.
“We were negotiating and we just came to the end of negotiations and we couldn’t come to a mutual conclusion,” said New Canaan Postmaster Nancy Cornelio. “We’re keeping our eyes and ears open for a smooth transition to a new place in New Canaan.”
The same line came out of L’Enfant Plaza. Christine Dugas, a spokesperson at the Postal Service’s headquarters, told the Advertiser that after “extensive negotiations,” postal officials learned on Tuesday that the lease will lapse in January and that officials are reviewing all options, including short- and long-term possibilities, “to ensure continued service to our New Canaan customers.”
The landlord, needless to say, has a different story to tell. Again, from the Advertiser: “Harry Traub, a partner at Elm Street Partners, told the Advertiser on Monday that in May his firm thought it had negotiated a deal with the U.S. Postal Service for the Post Office to remain in the current space on Pine Street. Then, the firm received a call one day that the Postal Service reconsidered. The reason, Traub said, is that the Postal Service determined that office no longer needs the 7,000-square feet of space. Traub said his firm asked the Post Office to submit a plan of how much space it would need, but it never did.”
In an earlier report back in October 2012, the landlord told the Advertiser, “We’d very much like the Post Office to stay in the building, and we think it reflects the wishes of the residents in town."
The landlord said the Postal Service promised to present a proposal to stay, but it has not been forthcoming with one. He also noted that he had been talking to postal headquarters about the lease for the past two years. That was last October.
Ten months have gone by, and it's obvious now that the Postal Service has no interest in staying in New Canaan. The post office has been in this location since 1958. That will apparently come to an end in January.
August 20, 2013
BY MARK JAMISON
The Postal Service didn’t think the folks in Freistatt, Missouri, should have a post office, so they closed it.
The Postal Service didn’t think the folks in Freistatt, Missouri, should get rural carrier delivery like their neighbors, so they tricked the town into accepting cluster boxes.
Now the Postal Service doesn’t think the folks in Freistatt, Missouri, ought to have the opportunity to tell their story to the Postal Regulatory Commission, so they filed a motion asking the PRC to dismiss the appeal because it was submitted a week late.
As reported on STPO back in March 2013, the Postal Service closed the Freistatt office on two-days’ notice by emergency suspension — and on Good Friday no less. But that was not the end of the story. It was only the beginning.
The first push to close Freistatt: The 2011 RAOI
Freistatt is an incorporated town of 160 people in the southwest corner of Missouri. The town is situated along Highway H, a main road that serves trucks traveling between Missouri and Arkansas, and it has a fairly thriving business sector. There is a major insurance agency in the town, an active non-profit that mails Braille bibles for the blind, a large John Deere outlet, and a housing complex for seniors and the disabled. Although the town’s population decreased between the 2000 and 2010 census, the general area of Lawrence County grew by about 34% during that time.
In 2011 the Freistatt post office was one of 3,700 offices marked for closing under the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI), and a discontinuance study was initiated in August of that year. Like most discontinuance studies, this was a pro forma exercise that was less a study to determine if the office should close than a means to legitimize the Postal Service’s decision to close it. The plan back then was to replace the post office with rural delivery.
The discontinuance study was flawed by the usual anomalies and misinformation that has become an all-too-common feature of this process. For example, even though the office had both a postmaster and a postmaster relief (PMR), in the cost-savings analysis, all of the offices hours were rated at the higher labor rate of the postmaster, thus giving the impression of greater savings than actually would have been accrued.
The initial letters sent to Freistatt’s customers had more than a few things wrong as well. For example, the mileage to the other post offices was incorrect, and an office that was more than seventy miles away was included as an “alternate” facility. That initial letter, which is not in the administrative record provided by the Postal Service, also apparently had some assertions about the town and the post office that were wrong, including the notion that the town was unincorporated and that the postmaster did not help the elderly.
August 9, 2013
The Postal Service is in the process of closing two post offices in San Diego, and it’s using the fact that the leases have expired as one of the rationales. Considering that about three out of four post offices in the country are in leased spaces, that explanation puts thousands of post offices at risk every year.
The two San Diego offices headed for closure are the Escondido Finance Unit at 403 N. Escondido Blvd. and the Mission Valley Postal Store in the Westfield Mission Valley mall (1640 Camino Del Rio).
The Postal Service says the two locations were chosen in part because they are in retail centers where their leases have expired. The Mission Valley lease expired April 1 and the Escondido lease ended June 1. The Postal Service says both sites will remain open until a decision is made, but you can guess how that’s going to turn out.
The federal regulations governing post office closures (39 CFR 241.3) list the “permissible circumstances” for initiating a discontinuance study, such as a postmaster vacancy and "insufficient customer demand." An expiring lease is not one of them.
If the Postal Service and landlord cannot agree on a lease renewal, the office may be suspended, and the suspension can be cause for initiating a discontinuance, but an expiring lease is not cause for a suspension, and it’s dubious whether it is an appropriate cause for initiating a discontinuance study. In any case, there's no indication that the Postal Service was unable to renew the leases at these two locations, and the offices have not been suspended.
The federal regulations do say that the “permissible circumstances” are not limited to those listed, so maybe the Postal Service thinks it’s fine to add expiring leases to the list. That would means, though, that any one of the 24,000 post offices in leased spaces could be studied for closure simply because the lease expired.
August 7, 2013
On Monday two post offices in Illinois, Alorton and Cahokia, were closed by emergency suspension because mold was discovered in the building. Now a third Illinois facility has been hit. On Tuesday the Dupo post office was also closed after an inspection discover mold in the heating and cooling system.
It’s not clear at this time if the mold is spreading, and if so, how. Dupo and Cahokia are near East St. Louis, and they’re just a few miles apart; Alorton is 180 miles away in central Illinois. Maybe the hot, humid weather is causing the problems.
Customers are angry that the post offices closed without warning and they now have to travel to other post offices to get their mail. For some of them, it means a long trek to East St. Louis on public transportation.
Alorton Mayor JoAnn Reed is doubly disturbed. As mayor, she’s concerned that citizens won’t be able to get their mail.
"Alorton is one of the poorest communities in the state of Illinois,” Reed told the Belleville News-Democrat. “The folks here don't have a way or the means to go to East St. Louis or Fairview Heights ... to get their mail."
Mayor Alorton is upset for another reason. The Village of Alorton owns the building where the post office is located, so she’s basically the Postal Service’s landlord.
"They are our tenants. We were not told anything about this. If there were problems, you have to make your requests known. We were given no opportunity to comply with any maintenance concerns.”
The mayor thinks that the Postal Service wants to close the post office, and this was an easy way to accomplish that. “I think they did it this way because they want to avoid a fight with the citizens,” said Reed. “But it won't be avoided here."