Well, at least now when you hear stories about the financial disaster that is the United States Postal Service, you won’t have to wonder why.
Not when you consider the sudden course reversal USPS took regarding the Rice Street post office and ask, “What were they thinking?”
Let’s see. Despite two community meetings in 2017, hundreds of letters and even coconuts signed with messages, all urging that the historic post office be left alone, USPS insisted it was still closing the site and consolidating it with operations at the Lihue Airport USPS Carrier Annex.
“This is a final decision,” it proclaimed in Dec 1, 2017 press release.
No, wait. Maybe not. Maybe we’ll just change our mind.
What? A year later? What took so long?
When contacted by TGI on Wednesday about the abrupt turnabout, USPS spokesman Duke Gonzales had this to say:
“After a thorough review of our options, we decided it would be in the best interest of our customers and the postal service not to relocate our retail services from our Rice Street facility.”
Thanks for such a detailed response.
When TGI asked for further information, clarification, explanation, Gonzales declined. It’s certainly understandable USPS doesn’t want to talk about such an embarrassing fiasco. It would rather move on to what it does best, delivering fliers, magazines and bills and getting further billions into debt. The postal service reported a net loss for 2018 of $3.9 billion, an increase in net loss of $1.2 billion compared to 2017. But it’s not its fault, USPS and its faithful supporters will cry. It’s the fault of that unfair law passed in 2006 that requires it to pay for future retiree health benefits — except, it doesn’t.
“Similar to the last several years, the postal service was unable to make the $6.9 billion in payments that were due to the federal government at the end of fiscal year 2018 to pre-fund pension and health benefits for postal retirees, without putting its ability to fulfill its primary mission at undue risk,” according to its 2018 fiscal year report.
And other defenders will point out this federal agency isn’t supported by tax dollars, which somehow makes it perfectly OK to operate in a sea of red ink.
But we digress.
The USPS owes the community of Lihue more of an explanation for why it decided — more than year after that initial decision — against closing the Rice Street post office. Sorry, but there’s more to it than, “in the best interest of our customers and the postal service not to relocate our retail services from our Rice Street facility.” All those letters, coconuts and public meetings and who knows how many phone calls made it clear this move wasn’t in the best interest of its customers. At least hardly anyone on this island seemed to think so. It was about saving money, though considering the massive debt USPS faces, it would be a drop in the proverbial bucket and, in the big picture, made little sense. Maybe officials finally realized this was small change compared to its mounting national problems.
Let’s recount, in a nutshell, what happened:
• In January of 2017 it announced plans to close the Rice Street post office and consolidate it with operations at its annex near the airport.
• It conducted public meetings and sought public comments.
• It caused a community outcry because the 1939 building is on the Hawaii State Register and the National Register of Historic Places, people like picking up mail there, and the Rice Street town core is targeted for revitalization.
• It finally announced what everyone knew would be the outcome despite so much opposition, that the post office would be closed.
• Nothing else was said on this matter for a year, and no one seemed to know when the Rice Street post office would close.
• Then came the unexpected: USPS simply changed its mind with a terse note.
It posted a letter in December at the Rice Street location that stated: “Over the past year, the postal service has reexamined its situation, its discussions with the local stakeholders, and the comments and appeals received after public meetings.”
The letter continues, saying based on all of the input, the decision was withdrawn and the project to consolidate operations has been canceled.
It had all this exact same input before it announced the decision to close the Rice Street post office. The only thing we can take away from that is, it did an lousy job of reviewing that input the first time around, which is bad management. It should have been handled better.
And it makes you wonder what, exactly, it discovered in reviewing all that same input that led to a different decision the second time around. Perhaps they discovered all those coconuts in some back storage room.
But at the end of the day, there is good news.
The Rice Street post office will remain open and your favorite employees there will still greet you with a smile.
The people can take credit for taking a stand and winning.
And the USPS likely learned a lesson to do a better job of vetting information before making public decisions.
We should add that the USPS deserves credit for owning up to a mistake and righting a wrong — even if it was a year late.
Now, if it can just figure out how to deliver those billions of pieces of first-class mail without losing billions of dollars.