(Kris McLonis, Ferndale resident guest writer, 9/29/2011)
Turnout was sparse at the Kulick Center on September 29, 2011 for the Ferndale Post Office Status Meeting. Three representatives of the United States Postal Service – Ansileen Washington of the College Park branch; Gwendolyn Mulkey of the Joy Field branch; and Ed Moore, Manager of Communications in Detroit – opened the meeting at 6:10 PM.
Moore began with an overview of the current financial situation of the USPS. First, he stated for those who were unaware of the fact that the USPS receives no tax dollars but must generate revenue to keep itself in business. He then proceeded with some statistics:
The number of pieces of mail handled by the USPS went down by 2 billion since 2006
Revenue was down by 8 billion dollars over the previous three years, with 5 billion dollars of that loss occurring from 2010-2011
On September 30, the USPS will default on a payment to its retirees.
Moore explained that the rise in the use of email and online bill payment has played an unsurprising role in the drop in the use of tangible mail. He also cited the recession, which influences the decisions that businesses make in advertising by mail.
Moore followed up that statement by saying that just about any transaction that one can take care of in a brick-and-mortar post office can also be handled online. For those still wishing to visit a physical facility, he mentioned that there are many consignment stations that can provide postal services. The Dollar Castle in downtown Ferndale is one such station; businesses such as Kroger and CVS can also provide these services.
For those who rely heavily on post office boxes, Moore provided assurance that, should the Ferndale branch close down, the post office boxes currently located at that branch would still be available, with their current numbers, at an alternate location. He also pointed out that many of these locations are open much later in the day than are most post office branches. Locally, there are 15 alternative locations within a 10-mile radius; eight of those are within a 2-mile radius. For those who still want to avail themselves of the services of a “full-fledged” post office, Moore mentioned that one can always call a local branch if there is need to have an item picked up or dropped off at a home or business.
Moore said that no post office branch slated for closing would be shut down before January 1 of 2012 and that the public would be notified “well in advance” of any closings.
The floor was then opened for questions. Peter Werbe asked whether workers at consignment stations would be union workers, bound by the same government rules and regulations as are workers at full-fledged post office branches. While not addressing the issue of union affiliation, Moore stated that workers at consignment stations would indeed be bound by the same rules and regulations.
Werbe further stated that he had received in his post office box a survey regarding the possibility of the Ferndale branch closing. The problem was that the survey gave a submission deadline of September 27, and Werbe had not received it until September 28.
Former Ferndale mayor Bob Porter raised the issue of the Ferndale branch building itself – namely, whether there were any planned uses for the building should the branch close. He pointed out that, as a post office branch, the building is currently a tax-free facility. A business purchasing the building could generate considerable revenue; or the lot itself, if the building were razed, could help to ease the shortage of parking spaces in the surrounding area. Porter also expressed the concern that if the building were to be empty for an extended period of time, the lot could become an eyesore. Moore assured Porter that the property would be maintained by the USPS until such time that the property were to be sold. At this point there are no specific plans for disposal of the building in the event that the Ferndale branch is closed.
Porter also asked what the criteria had been for putting the Ferndale branch and other branches on the list of locations being considered for closure. Moore said that those locations that had experienced declining revenue over the previous three years and that were in close proximity of other places providing postal service were the ones selected for consideration.
Christopher Uhlmer, an employee at the Ferndale branch, said that adequate notification had been given to Ferndale residents of the current meeting. He further stated that he and other workers at that branch had been instructed not to distribute notification of the meeting and was concerned that the sparse numbers at the meeting wasn’t a true representative sample of the citizens of Ferndale. Uhlmer recommended that an additional forum be scheduled, with adequate notice beforehand to everyone in the city.
Moore answered that an earlier notification had indeed been held back because the location for the meeting – AJ’s Café at 240 W. 9 Mile in Ferndale – was deemed unsuitable. He also said that copies of the survey to which Werbe had referred would be available at both the Ferndale and College Park branches, and that the deadline for completion and submission would be 90 days from the date of the current meeting.
Moore submitted that announcements of the current meeting had been made during news broadcasts on channels 2 and 7. It was pointed out that not everyone necessarily watches the news or even television in general; so the broadcast was no guarantee that everyone in Ferndale who would have wanted to attend the meeting would have been informed. Moore answered that a letter regarding the possible closing of the Ferndale branch would be sent to all the citizens of Ferndale.
Several attendees expressed the value that they saw of having a local post office branch. One attendee said that her current ability to make use of the Ferndale branch provided incentive for her to frequent some of the nearby businesses. She commented further that, if the Ferndale branch were to close, she would likely not visit those other establishments.
Several attendees gave differing reports of the quality of the service at the Ferndale post office. One attendee said that she had many times not received important pieces of mail, such as wedding invitations, and was only aware of those missing pieces of mail because the persons who had sent her those pieces of mail had communicated with her about them. (She did express concern that the apparent remedy being considered for this problem was to close the branch down entirely.) Others reported receiving reliable service.
Werbe echoed the sentiment that understaffing of the Ferndale branch was a direct cause of reduced revenue at that location. He proposed that, if the Ferndale branch were to be closed down and its services picked up by non-union, minimum-wage workers at alternate locations, this would further unravel the social fabric of the local community.
Reta Isom, another worker at the Ferndale branch, echoed Uhlmer’s earlier statement that the mailing of the original meeting notice had been discouraged. However, she said, she had placed the notices in the post office boxes at the Ferndale branch so that at least some of Ferndale’s citizens would be aware of the meeting.
Werbe asked what would happen to the workers of the Ferndale branch if it were closed down. Moore answered that, thanks to attrition throughout the USPS, those workers would be moved into positions at other branches.
An employee from the Fort Street branch in Detroit said that she had been told at a town hall meeting at that location that her branch was definitely slated to close. Moore assured her that there was no done deal regarding that location or any other.
Moore ended the meeting by reminding attendees that surveys would be available at the Ferndale and College Park branches. Those surveys should be mailed to:
USPS Detroit District Coordinator
1401 W. Fort St., Room 927
Detroit, MI 48233
The meeting was adjourned at 7:40 PM.
Kris McLonis is a librarian, a folk musician, and a Ferndale resident. Check out her music on Myspace.
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