"Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep the postmen from their appointed rounds."
It just shows you how bad things are when the one thing we could always depend on, the mail service, is staggering and heading for a big fall.
It is often easy for us to think, hidden up here in the Ozark hills, that we are insulated from a lot of the national economic turmoil, but we are feeling the U. S. Postal Service problems big time. Ten rural post offices in our area are on closure lists.
The postal service lost $8.5 billion last year and will top that figure this year.
As it tries to reorganize and stabilize, rural post offices are at the top of the list of service cuts.
For three weeks now, the mistreatment Gepp Post Office customers have suffered has made news here in The News.
Last spring, the Gepp office was one of the first in Arkansas to be listed for closure.
The first step was a community meeting, which the postal service scheduled. It attracted a big crowd of Gepp residents who talked about how important the post office is to their community, especially elderly residents, and criticized the postal service for having too many employees, paying high salaries and wasting money on things like expensive television commercials.
Postal representatives said there was no choice but to close money-losing rural post offices or, as they called it, "streamlining services," to cut costs.
While they were probably facing a losing battle, citizens were encouraged to send petitions and fill out survey forms and file appeals, if they wanted to fight closure.
Gepp Post Office supporters did all that and, when a decision was made this summer supporting closure, they filed an appeal, in August. Those who went through the appeal process were told the post office was safe for at least 120 days, the time it would take for the appeal to be considered.
But Sept. 8, a team of USPS commandos swept in, locked the doors, tore out post office boxes and packed up.
They claimed the post office was closed because of an "emergency."
Not an emergency like a fire, tornado or other public safety threat. The post office was shut down because the person who ran the Gepp Post Office had to take five days off while she was being reappointed, and a temporary replacement could not be found anywhere.
A Washington D.C. attorney came to the defense of little Gepp, telling the Postal Regulatory Commission the postal service had never shut down a post office while an appeal was pending, the emergency closing was not a real emergency and locking the door and sticking a "closed" notice on it was not proper notice to citizens who have gotten their mail at Gepp for decades.
If you haven't read the latest story in this issue, you won't believe how the postal service now blames the closing on the respected local resident who ran the post office; a claim facts show is untrue and, maybe, even slanderous.
Needless to say, Gepp residents now have no faith in the postal service, and distrust the federal government even more than they used to.
If Gepp residents can be treated so badly, despite policies to protect their rights, residents served by other rural post offices in Arkansas and across the country will likely experience the same heavy handed smack downs.
If the post office is broke, why is it spending millions of dollars holding public hearings in each community and collecting surveys and writing reports that go to the state office and regional office and the main office before it rules on a closing?
It is all a sham. If a rural post office loses money and there's a larger post office in the area, it is quite clear it is going to close, no matter how many people sign petitions.
I say close 'em and get it over with, instead of lying to people about hearings and evidence and appeals, and making unbiased decisions.
Sadly, the disappearance of rural post offices is just the tip of the iceberg.
Problems that could affect nearly every mail customer may be on the way, as the postal service moves on to closing process centers, which collect mail for an area, sort it and send it on to individual post offices. Mail going out or coming into our area used to be handled by a processing center in Batesville. This summer, the Batesville processing center was closed and our mail started traveling to Jonesboro for processing.
Areawide Media noticed the difference right away, when people started complaining their papers were no longer being delivered on Thursday, as they had for years.
Some problems are bound to arise when new systems are implemented, and our circulation manager, Debbie Perryman, says subscriber complaints have come down, as Jonesboro has worked to do a better job of getting our papers distributed to post offices.
But, according to one mail carrier I spoke with, the mail often arrives at post offices later than it used to.
I guess that's to be expected, since postal trucks face a longer drive from Jonesboro to Salem or Viola, than the trip from Batesville to Salem or Viola. With Batesville processing closed, Jonesboro is also responsible for processing a lot more mail than it used to.
The result is, mail apparently often reaches mail boxes later in the day, frustrating people waiting for checks or other important deliveries.
The latest news is, the processing center in Jonesboro is now also facing closure.
The postal service wants to move mail sorted in Jonesboro to the Memphis processing center.
It also wants to close processing centers in Harrison, Hot Springs and Fayetteville, and let Little Rock distribute all that mail. The postal service claims, because of the huge drop in the amount of mail it receives, it can close 252 processing centers nationwide and customers will not see a difference in mail delivery.
I am among the doubters.
Even if Memphis can efficiently process mail for its region AND take on mail for post offices in central and eastern Arkansas, the sorted mail still must be trucked to post offices.
Getting mail to Salem and Viola and other area post offices from Memphis is going to take additional time.
Closing money losing post offices, raising rates yet again, stopping Saturday delivery and reducing the workforce are just some of the many painful ways the postal system is going to have to change to end big losses.
I understand that, but it seems dismantling the system that insures prompt delivery of mail will only continue to drive customers away and cause losses to continue.
In other words, if the USPS isn't careful, even more people will decide, "Why use the Pony Express when there is FedEx and UPS?"