Residents who arrived to check their post office boxes were surprised to find the post office door locked and cardboard covering the windows and door.
A notice taped to the door said: "EMERGENCY SUSPENSION, GEPP POST OFFICE, 72538, EFFECTIVE 9-8-2011. Suspended Until Further Notice. PO Box customers can pick up their mail at the Viola Post Office which is located 7 miles east on Hwy. 62."
"I know we are still appealing to keep it open," said one customer, who tried the locked door despite the notice. "What's this emergency business?"
While "Suspended Until Further Notice" raises hopes for a temporary closure, one citizen, who passed the post office on Thursday night, Sept. 8, could see that post office boxes had been removed from the walls in the lobby.
"The Gepp Post Office is being ripped apart," the woman said.
On Friday, Sept. 9, bags of trash had been set outside the office door, and people could be heard inside, apparently packing up.
The News contacted Lisa Tolliver-Gaye, the U.S. Postal Service Customer Service Coordinator in Little Rock, regarding the Gepp closure.
"We have closed the Gepp post office because of an emergency situation. The officer in charge must take a mandatory five day break, and we cannot find a replacement for her," said Tolliver-Gaye.
Tolliver-Gaye explained the Gepp Post Office does not have a postmaster. Instead, it employs an officer in charge (Karen Shrable), who is not a career employee with benefits, and is required to periodically take days off.
Will the post office re-open after Shrable's five day break?
"No," replied the post office spokeswoman. "The post office is on the closing list and, with no replacement for the officer in charge, we have closed it permanently."
Tolliver-Gaye was then asked how the post office can be closed, since Gepp residents recently filed an appeal of the Postal Regulatory Commission's recommendation to close the postal station. The appeal is part of an official process that must be followed before individual post offices can be closed.
She replied she was not aware citizens had an appeal pending, and she would check on the situation.
In a later call, Tolliver-Gaye amended her earlier statement to The News.
"Since we cannot find a replacement for the officer in charge and we cannot interrupt service, we have moved the post office boxes (to Viola), until a replacement is found or a determination of closure is made," said Tolliver-Gaye.
According to the spokeswoman, the manager over the Gepp post office has tried to find a temporary replacement for the officer in charge, but no one wants to take the position because the office is in such a "remote" location.
"We did all we could, but I think they found a loophole and took it," said Gepp resident Ethel Morris, who has been active in the effort to save the post office.
According to Morris, Shrable, who runs the post office, has frequently taken time off in the past, and there has been no problem finding a temporary replacement to work for her.
"We filed our appeal (of the closure decision) with time to spare," said Morris. "We have tried to follow the rules and they have done us dirty."
|Morris and others who have worked to keep the post office open are aware a post office can be closed under an emergency order, if the facility is unsafe and poses a danger to customers or employees.||Morris said she had never heard that an "emergency" could include problems finding replacement workers when regular employees are off.|
The Gepp Post Office was one of the first rural Arkansas post offices listed for closure, early this year.
|At a public meeting in March, more than 60 Gepp residents filled the volunteer fire department to argue their post office is needed and well used by an elderly population.|
A post office spokesman told them they had the right to petition to keep their post office open, but "drastic cuts" in service had to be made, because the postal service lost $8.5 billion dollars in 2010 and was running out of money.
In August, the postal service expanded its closure list to nearly 3,700 post offices.
Besides Gepp, post offices in Sturkie, Camp, Elizabeth, Wiseman, Violet Hill, Guion, Dolph, Sidney and Ravenden Spring, in our area, are listed for closure.
While Sturkey residents recently held a meeting to plan a fight to save their post office, some communities appear resigned to the idea small post offices are going to be closed, no matter how much citizens object.
"We've got to go to Viola, I guess," said a Gepp citizen who stopped to pick up his mail and found the post office closed.
What did he think about the seven mile trip to Viola to collect his mail?
"I don't think much of it," the man replied. "That's progress, I guess."