The Norman Transcript

March 15, 2013

Post office backs away from curbside edict

By Mick Hinton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The post office has backed down.

Postmaster Jeff Vaughan wants to assure everyone living in a southwest Norman neighborhood that they don’t have to move their mailboxes to curbside by today.

Vaughan said that those in the neighborhood who have already erected curbside mailboxes can tear them down and revert back to home delivery via front porch mailboxes.

Less than two dozen customers  — out of an estimated 200 in the impacted neighborhood — have moved their boxes, although residents noticed a few more being erected at the curb during the latter part of this week.

Residents are surprised that the post office has changed its mind. Their first huge surprise was when they got a letter a few weeks ago stating that their mailboxes must be moved to the curb, and If they didn’t, their mail might be “withheld” and they would have to go to the post office to retrieve it.

The postmaster quickly backed up on that requirement, which still left the neighbors with numerous questions.

“Isn’t this all amazing,” said David Smeal, who lives in the affected neighborhood north of Imhoff Road in the vicinity of Pickard and Fairfield avenues.

Longtime residents include several who bought new homes in the development decades ago when these sprawling ranch-style homes were built in the neighborhood west of the University of Oklahoma.

The owners have been commiserating with each other, and perhaps getting better acquainted in the process.  They have tried — sometimes successfully — to reach postmaster Vaughan at 321-4256.

Residents alerted their city council member and their congressman, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, in their efforts to stop the movement. A neighborhood meeting was in the offing but was called off when an apparent settlement was reached between the post office and the local carriers’ union.

The Norman controversy is occurring at a time when the post office nationwide is hurting financially, Vaughan said.

Nationally, postal officials estimate a decline of about 25 percent in first-class mail services since the Internet and other online mailing services have emerged.

The March 9 issue of the New York City-based “This Week Magazine” thoroughly discussed the problem in an article titled “Can the Postal Service be saved?” The article notes that an overriding concern is the U.S. Post Office needs “a  more conventional pension-funding system.”

Former state legislator Wallace Collins, of Norman, said the requirement that the post office must fund its pension system “up to 75 percent is financially breaking the post office.” Several other pension funds do not require such a large percentage of pensions owed that would be payable in total — only if everyone retired tomorrow, he said.

This comes at a time when the post office nationally has cut back drastically on new hires. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced that Saturday mail delivery will be curtailed. However, he met immediate, strong opposition from the U.S. Congress.

Meanwhile, what transpired between the Norman postmaster and the carriers’ Local Union 1491 is somewhat of a mystery because both sides say they must abide by a provision in their own Postal Operations Manual that prohibits them from talking to the media.

Vaughan said he would not discuss what transpired regarding any agreement reached. Meanwhile, the carriers’ union officials will not return phone calls.

The reported filing of a grievance by the union did not occur. Instead, postal officials and the local union struck an agreement. If the two sides did not reach an agreement, the grievance would have been filed, moving the controversy into an arbitration phase.

Both sides have agreed to follow their own operations manual that covers the required procedure for a change in delivery of services.

The Postal Operations Manual states: “Owners who do not agree (with a change to curbside) must be allowed to retain their current mode of delivery.”

In addition, “customer signatures must be obtained prior to any conversion.”

Nevertheless, Vaughan said the post office welcomes anyone “who would like to help the postal service and carriers by voluntarily moving their boxes to curbside.”

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