Speak Your Piece: The Vanishing Postmaster
[imgbelt img=post_office01.jpg]Like a Christmas bicycle, communities come with some assembly required. The elimination of the post office’s central role in binding communities together is perhaps the greatest cost of closures and reductions in hours, says the last official postmaster of Webster, North Carolina.
Of course, the real story is a whole lot more complicated than any of that. Yes, it’s true that mail volumes have dropped because of the Internet, but a great deal of the drop in volumes is due to the Great Recession. It’s also true that the Postal Service has sustained some pretty heavy losses, but the fact is that most of those losses were built into the Postal Service’s accounting by the postal reform bill of 2006 known as PAEA. That bill used some accounting tricks and budget-scoring methods to place impossible and unnecessary obligations on the Postal Service. Absent those requirements, the operations of the Postal Service have been in the black.
Millions of Americans still rely on the post office for basic transactions. Some may call it junk mail, but it’s estimated that the postal network affects $1 trillion worth of our economy and helps support 8 million jobs. Maybe most important is that the local post office is still a community center and a source of community identity. Postal employees, including rural and city carriers, clerks and postmasters, play important and useful roles in their communities.
The founding fathers saw the value of the post office. They understood that a postal network was more than a means of delivery. The postal network served as basic infrastructure that connected our nation commercially and civically. The ability to have an open and accessible network that brought news, opinion, culture and education to the doorstep of every American home had both economic and social value. The promise of universal service, that every American would receive free delivery, is an embodiment of the charge to the Postal Service to help “bind the nation together.” More than that, it helps fulfill the explicit promise of the preamble to the Constitution that “We the people” would join together to “insure domestic tranquility” and “promote the general welfare.”
The rural post office has been a contact point between Americans and their government. In many small towns and communities, the post office is the meeting place, the place where folks see their neighbors and participate in a most basic American trait of connection and community. As postmaster I was more than just a fellow who sold stamps, shipped packages and delivered mail. I was a part of the community, source of information, help and often comfort.
During my years as postmaster I opened jars, put together bicycles for Christmas morning, filled out money orders for elderly customers with shaky hands and helped countless folks with all sorts of tasks that weren’t officially part of my job. When folks in the community had a problem with a medical bill or a dispute with a company, they often came to me to help them sort things out. My ex-wife is a rural mail carrier, and besides delivering mail she delivers soup, baked goods and provides the sort of personal care and attention that goes far beyond a customer-vendor relationship.
The Postal Service is a national treasure and an essential part of our national infrastructure. It has been and continues to be an important source of connection for both rural and urban communities. There is no question that the Postal Service is challenged by new technologies, but it is far from obsolete.
Mark Jamison lives in western North Carolina. He writes for www.savethepostoffice.com, a website that reports on postal issues such as office closings and reductions of hours and service.