USPS Cuts Public Out of Appeals Process with New Rules

Featured

Postal Regulatory Commission Eliminates Public’s Ability to Appeal Closure & Sale of “Relocated” Post Offices

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

From “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, Chapter VI, Humpty Dumpty


Through the Looking Glass with the New Definition of the Word “Relocation” of a Post Office

The Federal Register contains information regarding pending rules submitted for comment to the public. Each pending rule has a deadline. After a set period of time, the rule becomes final and is published. Frequently the general public has no clue about what rules are “pending” and what the consequences of the rule means in terms of potential negative outcomes to the public.

Take for instance the rule that was submitted to the Federal Register by the Postal Regulatory Commission called “Appeals of Post Office Closings” 39 CFR Parts 3001 and 3025 [Docket No. RM2011-13; Order No. 814]. The Agency that submitted this rule was the Postal Regulatory Commission. The Action they were seeking: “Proposed rulemaking.”

The Summary of the rule sounds like the new rule is going to make it easier for Americans to appeal the closures of their post offices. However, even though the appeals process is simplified to a degree by the new rule, it also contains another passage that redefines what is considered a “relocation” of a facility. Here is the definition:

Within the Section entitled “II. Advantages of the New Rules”

“The new rules specifically clarify that when a retail facility is relocated within a community so that the number of facilities within that community does not change, that relocation is not a closing that can be appealed to the Commission.” (See 54180 Federal Register/Vol. 76, No. 169/Wednesday, August 31, 2011/Proposed Rules)

What does this new definition of “relocation” mean to people who want to save their post office in their community? This new definition is published under “Advantages of the New Rules” section. How is “relocation is not a closing that can be appealed to the Commission” be an advantage to the public? 

Here is an explanation of what this new “relocation” definition means related to closing a post office. If a community receives notice in a press release that its post office will be “relocated” within a community, the public will not be able to appeal that “relocation” to the Postal Regulatory Commission. If a post office is “relocated” to another facility, the original post office could be closed and sold and the public has no recourse with USPS or the Postal Regulatory Commission to legally voice their concerns in a way that could stop the “relocation” and possible sale of the original post office. These words “closed” and “sold” are conveniently disappeared from the definition of “relocation.” Even though in reality an historic building like the Venice Main Post Office, Ukiah Main Post Office, or La Jolla Main Post Office could be closed and sold, because these post offices are defined as only being “relocated” to another part of the community, the new rule prevents the public from being able to appeal the closure and sale of its historic post offices.

This new rule to “simplify” the process just simplified the public out of the process for “relocated” post offices. In other words, because of this new rule, the United States Postal Service (USPS) can legally close any post office it chooses, sell it without the public having any say about the matter if USPS calls this a “relocation” where they then put the post office in a different facility in the same community.

Is this fair? Is this democratic? Is this right? This rule only makes it easier for USPS to do whatever it wants with its facilities despite the valid concerns of the public about closing or relocating a particular post office. This new rule enables the United States Postal Service to legally have carte blanche in selling post offices without input from the local residents who will be affected by the sale and closure of their post office. This is a perversion of the law because it cuts the public out of the appeals process in a very nuanced and nasty way. And most people had no knowledge that this rule could cut them out of possibly appealing the closure of their post office.

Where is Government Of the People, By the People, and, For the People when USPS cuts the people out of having input into what happens in their own community?

This rule deliberately enables the USPS to not have to deal with the public about post offices that will be relocated. This is truly unbelievable and undemocratic.

"Story of Venice" mural in New Deal Era Venice Post Office. Photo Credit: "Story of Venice" by lavocado@sbcglobal.net on flickr cc

"Story of Venice" mural in New Deal Era Venice Post Office. Photo Credit: "Story of Venice" by lavocado@sbcglobal.net on flickr cc

Post Offices Built Prior to the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act

The United States Postal Service and Congress need to be reminded that all the postal facilities built or purchased prior to the Postal Reorganization Act in 1970 were paid for by taxpayer dollars. However, the top leadership and legal counsel at USPS and the Postal Regulatory Commission fail to understand this important point because many post offices like the Venice Post Office, Ukiah Main Post Office and La Jolla Main Post Office were built in the New Deal Era in the 1930s. They were built with taxpayer dollars. Yet, these very post offices that have served people in their communities are being sold for a fast buck similar to CEOs who raid corporations by selling off their assets to squeeze every bit of money out of a company. Then all that is left is a skeleton of a company. Is that what is happening here?

This is a misuse of definitions, law, and rulemaking to make it legal to eliminate the public from the process of deciding what happens to public facilities in their own community. This is antidemocratic and this rule should be changed.

Divestiture on the Unspoken Road to USPS Privatization

Is the United States Postal Service top leadership focused on selling off its assets in an attempt to rid itself of its infrastructure using its current economic situation as an excuse? This article, “How to Privatize the Post Office: Piece by piece, step by step” on the SavethePostOffice.com website outlines a clear blueprint showing how the undoing of the postal service as a public good replaced by a privatized version began with the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act and has been happening piece by piece for decades to the present.

It is up to Americans and Congress to stop the fire sale of their historic post offices which now are being sold off using new definitions of words like “relocation” to edit out the public’s ability to even participate in an appeals process to stop the selling off of their community post offices. The latest misuse of the “relocation” scam happened by this USPS press release on January 10, 2012 in a special announcement titled “Postal Service plans to relocate La Jolla Post Office.” Here is some of the text of that strange announcement which blames the internet in part for the reason it is “relocating” this post office. There is no mention that that facility is profitable and that there is no “similar” building like it anywhere in La Jolla because it is an historic treasure to that community:

“Within the process of the Facility Optimization, the La Jolla Main Post Office would be relocated to a similar location within 1 mile of the current site.”…”The Postal Service has retained the real estate professionals of CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) to handle the real estate transactions.”

Let’s put out the fire sales now shall we.

USPS Uses Flawed Process to Close Historic Ukiah, CA New Deal Post Office with Art Mural

Featured

Ukiah, CA Main Post Office New Deal Mural painted in 1938

Ukiah, CA Main Post Office New Deal Mural, "Resources of the Soil" painted in 1938 by Ben Cunningham

The Ukiah, California branch post office built in 1936 during the New Deal Era under President Franklin D. Roosevelt by the Works Progress Administration and opened in 1937, qualifies as a building protected under the National Historic Preservation Act. The mural inside the post office, “Resources of the Soil,” painted in 1938 by Ben Cunningham commissioned by the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, reflects the “American scene” of the surrounding community. The work features two leading industries in Mendocino County  at the time of the painting of the mural: farming and lumber milling.

However, even though the  Ukiah Main Post Office was pre-approved as qualifying to be on the National Register of Historic Buildings, according to a letter sent to USPS General Counsel Mary Anne Gibbons by Ukiah Mayor Rodin on April 23, 2011 (see petition brief exhibit 11, Docket No. A2001-21), the USPS failed to complete the necessary documents to get the Ukiah Main Post Office approved on the Historic National Register:

“Under the National Historic Preservation Act [Section 110(2)(1)], the USPS has an affirmative duty to nominate the Ukiah Post Office for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. USPS failed to perform this duty. The initiative of Congressman Mike Thompson on April 8, 2011 in submitting a completed nomination package to the USPS and the California State Historic Preservation Office assists the USPS in compliance and establishes that the Ukiah Post Office is eligible for listing on the National Register.”

“When it is put to the test, any independent judicial authority will find that it is “feasible” for the Postal Service to continue to use the Ukiah Post Office. Therefore, the National Historic Preservation Act, as presently written, makes the proposed closure illegal.”

Ukiah CA Post Office built 1936

Ukiah CA Post Office built 1936 during Roosevelt's New Deal

Despite serving the people of Ukiah for 75 years, the U.S. Postal Service decided to close the beautiful Ukiah Main Post Office claiming it will save money. The lack of transparency in the closure procedures and the USPS management officials’ refusal to complete documents that would put the Ukiah Main Post Office on the National Register, puts a cloud over the entire process. The community protested the closing of their beloved post office which is a centerpiece of the town’s downtown economy and historic heritage area, but the USPS decided to close it anyway. An article, “A First Class Farewell,” by Carole Brodsky on in the Daily Journal stated:

“It’s despicable,” said attorney Barry Vogel, who worked with a group of citizens to prevent closure of the Ukiah branch. “These closures take the guts out of local communities, subjugating us so that we become less free. We have fewer services and it makes life more difficult for hard-working people who have used this post office for 75 years.”

“Anger and sadness were palpable in the crowd, and no one seemed convinced that the closure would truly provide cost savings to the beleaguered institution.”

Touring Ukiah

This video at 54 seconds shows that the Ukiah Main Post Office is located next to many businesses in the downtown area.

The New Deal Era Ukiah Main Post Office was in easy walking distance for residents because it was located in the “heart” of historic downtown. The USPS leadership decided to close this beautiful historic landmark which it owned outright and move the post office to an out-of-the-way annex on the edge of town. According to the website, SaveThePost Office.com:

“5,000 signatures were gathered opposing the Ukiah closing.”

United States Post Office Officials Denied Ukiah Residents Key Information Regarding Decisionmaking Process for Ukiah Post Office Closure 

The USPS sidestepped having to notify the residents in the normal “discontinuance” process because the post office is moving to another “annex on the edge of town.” Instead of calling this a “closure” of a post office, USPS claims it is a “relocation” which has a different set of procedures surrounding how the public is notified. Residents filed an objection to the closing and proposed sale of the Ukiah Main Post Office with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) on August 10, 2011. A portion of the brief filed with the PRC by the “Save Ukiah Post Office Committee and Michael E. Sweeney states:

The Ukiah Main Post Office, 224 Oak Street, Ukiah, is Postal Service property and has been a centerpiece of the city’s downtown since it was opened in 1937. lt has approximately 1500 post office boxes and receives heavy customer traffic, much of it walk-ins from the surrounding commercial and residential area.

In early 2011, it became known in Ukiah that the Postal Service was planning closure of the Ukiah Main Post Office. On January 31, 2011, Petitioner Sweeney made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Postal Service for the feasibility study, building survey, preliminary budget and other writings pertaining to the proposed closure. On February 17, 2011, Postal Service Facilities Manager James Barnett denied the FOIA request for all significant documents on the grounds that they were exempt from disclosure as internal deliberative documents. On February 23, 2011, Sweeney appealed the denial of the FOIA request to Postal Service General Counsel Mary Anne Gibbons [Exhibit 1]. The appeal was denied on March 25, 2011 [Exhibit 2].

Responding to public concern, Congressman Mike Thompson wrote to the Postmaster General on February 2, 2011, requesting a copy of the assessment study on the closure and the financial analysis [Exhibit 3]. The Postal Service denied his request in a letter dated February 15, 2011 [Exhibit 4].

Does the U.S. Postal Service have something to hide?

Why did the Postmaster General and other officials of the United States Postal Service, including the General Counsel of the USPS, Mary Anne Gibbons, repeatedly refuse to allow the people of Ukiah access to key documents about the Ukiah Main Post Office closure? Even Congressman Thompson was denied access to documents that would help the people more clearly understand how the decision to close their beautiful historic post office and relocate it to a location on the edge of town was made.

On March 9, 2011, Ukiah Mayor Mari Rodin sent a letter to the Postal Service requesting information so the town could conduct an “independent appraisal of the condition of the Main Post Office,” and the Postal Service also denied this request.

It is astounding how much effort the USPS top leadership went to in order to deny key information to the people of Ukiah which would help them clearly understand the process used to close their Historic Main Post Office. There is something terribly callous about the behavior of the USPS leadership to disregard the will of the people, from the residents to the Mayor and City Council of Ukiah to the County of Mendocino Board of Supervisors and even to Congressman Thompson.

Why isn’t the mainstream media asking more questions regarding the secrecy surrounding the methodology used by the United States Postal Service to suddenly push to close thousands of post offices throughout the United States? Then, in spite of a recent moratorium announced on December 13, 2011 of closures until May 15, 2012, the USPS seems to be closing facilities like the Ukiah Main Post Office anyway.

According to the petition filed with the PRC, eventually the USPS provided partial information regarding the costs involved in relocating the Ukiah Main Post Office. It would cost approximately $360,000 to make changes in the Orchard Avenue Post Office to replace the Main Post Office in Ukiah. Many residents believed this and possibly other costs would outweigh any potential “savings” by closing the Main Post Office and relocating it to the Orchard Avenue Post Office that was not properly suited to handle a steady stream of customers. The Orchard Avenue facility was used mostly as a bulk mailing processing center. It was never designed as a regular post office to serve the needs of all of the people in the town.

County of Mendocino Board of Supervisors said in their letter of March 22, 2011 to the San Francisco District manager of the United States Postal Service:

“The proposed closure and relocation of postal service to the periphery of the community will have profound negative impacts on the downtown core.”

“At the February 23rd meeting a sheet was presented allegedly documenting the cost savings of the proposed closure. The community members present were told that the underlying data is not available for inspection. It is completely unacceptable that the USPS intends to withhold this information from the local community. This refusal fuels the suspicion that the proffered numbers will not withstand scrutiny. For instance, it is alleged that the Main Post Office requires $780,000 in capital improvements, yet the USPS anticipates selling this single purpose building that requires major upgrades for $600,000.”

“We renew the request that the USPS release the data that supposedly supports the recommendation to close the Ukiah Main Post Office. We also believe many of the current box holders and package service customers will resort to other options if the proposed recommendation is not reversed, likely resulting in an unanticipated loss of revenue to the USPS.

We hereby state our strong support for the recent request by the City of Ukiah to conduct an independent assessment of the Ukiah Main Post Office facility. Refusal to honor this reasonable request will further call into question the accuracy of the USPS assessment of the building.”

Postal Regulatory Commission Advisory N2011-1 Claims Post Office Closures Lack Sound Methodology for Deciding on Closure and Consolidation of Postal Facilities Nationwide

There is a gross violation of the public trust occurring with the blatant disregard for how communities are affected on multiple levels by the closure of important historic postal buildings as well as other postal facilities. The Postal Regulatory Commission’s  advisory opinion Docket # N2011-1 published on December 23, 2011, states:

“One of the Commission’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that universal service is maintained. Alternative retail access, including alternative access channels, is extremely important to the Postal Service’s universal service obligation. Closing facilities has an impact on service and puts a strain on the Postal Service’s Network as well as customer access to the postal system. Accordingly, the Postal Service should consider how a potential closing affects alternative retail access, including access channels, before a final determination on the discontinuance of a particular facility is made. It is not enough for alternative access channels to have the potential to become available in the future. The effectiveness of particular alternative access channels and alternative retail facilities must be considered prior to, and simultaneously with, discontinuance studies. For example, as described above, Village Post offices are limited substitutes for full service postal retail facilities.”

In the Executive Summary the PRC’ Advisory Opinion Docket No. N2011-1 claimed:

“The Postal Regulatory Commission has analyzed the Postal Service Access Optimization Initiative, a program that identifies more than 3,650 post offices, annexes, stations, and branches for possible closing.

The Commission has evaluated the Postal Service’s presentation and the evidence submitted by interested members of the public, and finds that the Retail Access Optimization Initiative is likely to affect service on a nationwide basis. The primary Commission finding is that notwithstanding its name, the Retail Optimization Access Initiative is not designed to optimize the retail network.”

Basically the Postal Regulatory Commission decided that the USPS Retail Optimization Access Initiative (RAOI) does not “optimize” the “retail network” of USPS. In other words, there is no sound financial basis for the methods used to decide which postal facilities to close or consolidate. If anything, the closure of postal facilities would have an adverse affect on local communities financially and in reducing postal service, especially to the elderly population.

Therefore, why is USPS still closing the Ukiah Main Post Office when it fails in every instance to clearly explain its reasoning behind closing the Ukiah Historic Main Post Office under the thin guise that it is not really closing the post office, it is merely “relocating” it to the Orchard Avenue Postal Facility?

Roosevelt Island Post Office Saved by Residents and Elected Officials

Featured

Roosevelt Island and the Blackwell House by David Berkowitz on flickr creative commons

Historic Plaque on Roosevelt Island. Photo: Roosevelt Island and the Blackwell House by David Berkowitz on flickr creative commons

The USPS had initially included the Roosevelt Island Post Office in New York City on the list of almost 3700 post office closures in August 2011. However, due to elected officials efforts such as Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney who represents New York’s 14th District, Manhattan’s East Side and Western Queens, on December 14, 2011 USPS said the Roosevelt Island Post Office would remain open for now.

Thousands of residents objected to the closing of the post office when it was announced this summer. It is the island’s only post office and it serves over 12,500 residents including many elderly and disabled people who would have great difficulty going to another post office over 1 mile away from Roosevelt Island.

Why did USPS Target Roosevelt Island Post Office for Closure in the First Place?

It is odd that the U.S. Postal Service leadership would target the Roosevelt Island Post Office for closure. By closing this post office the residents would not have any post office on the island. Something seems to be deeply flawed regarding how the Postmaster General and his officers decide which post offices will be “studied” for closure. At a time when we need to create more jobs and revitalize the economy, closing post offices and laying off workers is counterproductive to stimulating the economy.

The negative multiplier effect of closing postal facilities should be denied by Congress and the Postal Regulatory Commission. The jobs of postal workers should be protected and expanded. The Post Office has the potential of being an even greater hub of the local community.

The “Village Post Office” Poor Replacement for Full Service Brick and Mortar Post Offices

The “Village Post Office” which Postmaster General Donahoe and his advisors are pushing fails on many levels:

The Village Post Office only sells stamps and priority packages. Customers would not be able to send a letter by Express mail or to get a package certified as they would from a full service post office.

Another Solution that is Better for America

Senator Sanders recently attended a series of town hall meetings in Vermont and listened to hundreds of residents who spoke out against closings of post offices and postal processing facilities. Instead of closing post offices and putting people out of work, Sanders suggested expanding postal services and keeping post offices open.

He said USPS needs more flexibility to be able to better serve its customers by offering services such as:

  1. Notary Public
  2. Licenses
  3. Copying Services
  4. Verification of documents possibly sent via the internet

However, in recent years certain laws were passed that limited the types of services USPS could offer its customers. One wonders why the postal service was asked to be profitable, operate like a business, and then told it can only provide limited services to the American people.

Sanders said we need to give the postal service more opportunity to serve Americans in ways that meet the needs of its customers.

What Would Benjamin Franklin Say About the Post Office Today?

Benjamin Franklin was appointed Postmaster General on July 26, 1775 by the Continental Congress.

On July 26, 2011 Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe announced the possible closure of thousands of U.S. post offices, including the Benjamin Franklin Post Office, which was opened on the 200th anniversary of when Benjamin Franklin was appointed Postmaster General, July 26, 1975. This significant Post Office and museum is in Philadelphia in the home of the founding father, Benjamin Franklin.

What would Benjamin Franklin think of the possible closure of his post office? And, why is it on the closure list?