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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Gepp Post Office Reopens

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Salem Postmaster Tammy Keck carries in the mail, as the Gepp Post Office re-opened on Wednesday, Oct. 3, nearly 13 months after the U.S. Postal Service shut it down. [Order this photo]
Almost 13 months after it was suddenly closed, the Gepp Post Office has suddenly reopened, under reduced hours.

Customers from the Gepp area who rent post office boxes were recently informed by mail that their boxes would be moved from the Viola Post Office back to the Gepp Post Office on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

Kathy Adams, who filed an appeal with the Postal Regulatory Commission in Washington to challenge what she believed was an illegal closing, said she was looking forward to the Gepp Post Office re-opening because "having to travel to Viola was an inconvenience."

On the afternoon of Oct. 3, Clifford Liu was inside the Gepp Post Office waiting for the mail to arrive. An opening day glitch had occured. As a crew re-installed post office boxes, the Gepp mail was kept secure in a post office van. After the job was done, a worker, who forgot about the mail, drove off.

Liu didn't mind waiting for the mail to return. "I live in Mountion Home and have a farm in Gepp, so I had to go farther, to Viola, to get the mail. I am glad Gepp is open again."

Initially, the Gepp Post Office service counter will be open from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, to send packages, buy stamps or use other postal services. Customers who rent post office boxes can access them 24 hours a day.

Later this month, there will be a public meeting to allow Gepp residents to discuss what two hours a day they would prefer that the post office be open, and to give input on what type of services they would like to have.

The Gepp Post Office was one of 100 northern Arkansas post offices, most of them in rural areas, that were scheduled to be closed in 2011, as the U.S. Postal Service struggled with declining revenue and increasing debt.

Gepp residents filed an appeal when the postal service left it on the closure list, after a community meeting was held to collect public input.

The post office should have remained open through the appeal process when, on Sept. 8, 2011, a sign was taped to the door saying, "Emergency Suspension...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."

When The News contacted USPS headquarters in Little Rock, a reporter was told the emergency closure was necessary because the officer in charge, who ran the Gepp Post Office, was required to take a five day break while her appointment was being renewed, and the post office could not find a temporary replacement, because of its "remote location".

Would the post office reopen after its five day break?

No, was the answer. Since Gepp was on the closure list, it would not re-open.

When informed that Gepp residents had filed an appeal, and the post office should remain open until a decision was reached, the spokesperson asked for time to investigate.

When she contacted The News, the permanent closing story changed. Because service could not be interrupted, she said service had been moved to Viola until a replacement employee could be found, or the appeal resulted in a decision that Gepp would be permanently closed.

A group of residents filed a complaint with the Postal Regulatory Commission, and Patricia Gallagher, a Public Representative, was appointed to assist the residents.

Gallagher filed a motion claiming the USPS was wrong to close the Gepp Post Office on an emergency basis, since no true emergency existed, and she knew of no post office being closed while an appeal was pending. She added taping an "Emergency Suspension" sign on the door was not proper notice to the public.

As Gallagher's motion for fair treatment of Gepp residents was pending in Washington, residents received a post card tell them the officer in charge, Karen Shrable, was at fault for the emergency because she turned down reappointment to her job and suddenly quit.

Shrable strongly denied she caused an emergency by quitting. Shrable said postal officials unexpected showed up on Sept. 8, 2011, ordered her to close the post office and they began packing up. Shrable said she resigned later only because her superiors would guarantee her only part-time work, traveling to post offices in a 50 miles radius of her home in Gepp.

Public Representative Gallagher filed new evidence, claiming the USPS made hurtful, untrue comments about Shrable, and made "confusing and conflicting statements about the reasons the Gepp Post Office was closed by emerency suspension.

After considering the evidence, which included conflicting statements the postal service spokesperson had given The News, The Postal Regulatory Commission ruled that the USPS had violated its established procedures, and given several different explainations for its actions. The PRC told the USPS to review is handling of the case and inform it how it intended to mak amends.

Months passed and the USPS never got back to the Regulatory Commission as requested. "The commission can only seek cooperation from the postal service. It cannot club them over the head," Gallagher said on Oct. 4 from Washington.

During the summer, the USPS announced it was seeking applications for someone willing to work at the Gepp Post Office two hours a day, six days a week for $9.45 an hour.

While Gepp residents doubted anyone would take the job because of the limited hours, low pay and no benefits, someone has been hired to operate the office on the reduced schedule.

"I am very happy for them (Gepp residents)," Gallagher said. "Many people will be glad to know the post office is open again, even at greatly reduced hours. I think the opening is in response to the activism of local residents."

In December of 2011, the USPS agreed to stop its action to close more than 3,000 small post offices until May of 2012, to give time for Congress to get involved and try to help find solutions for its mounting financial problems.

In May, with no solutions found, Congress extended the closing mortorium for another year. The Gepp Post Office and many others are benefiting from a new USPS strategy. Instead of closing small post offices, it is attempting to operate them on a reduced schedule.

In our area, the Salem Post Office will continue to operate eight hours a day, Monday through Friday.

Other offices will be scaled back. Under the reduced schedule, Viola will be open six hours a day, Elizabeth will be open four hours a day, Sturkie, Gepp and Camp two hours a day.

Customers are being sent new survey forms and told of October meetings to discuss the latest changes in post office operations.

"Sometimes I come to get my mail at midnight," Liu said. "It (Gepp) is not open so many hours for stamps and things, but I can at least get in to get my mail at any time."

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