A message regarding your right to free speech/free press and a post office update to boot

A message regarding your right to free speech/free press and a post office update to boot

■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE

As another season on the island begins, another controversy has been brought to light. No, it’s not Gilchrist (yet). It’s not parking (yet). It’s the breakdown in communication we seem to be having with our post office. This is a touchy situation, as the post office – like the dog park – is one of the places that could be considered the lifeblood of our social web. Tamela and Cherre’ are the best, there is no contesting that. (They will admit they know all of our PO box numbers by heart.) But something is going on over there, and it’s something that isn’t taking place in the Englewood, Placida or Grove City post offices.

I’m going to be generous here and call it a “breakdown in communication” between the postmistress and, at best estimate, some 300 people who receive their mail on the island.

Since we ran the “concerned citizen” letter last week, we have received about 30 to 40 calls, emails, texts and written messages regarding postal incidents. We are collecting these just to get a grip on the sheer volume of negative experiences, not to publish everyone’s name and address. This is a fact-finding mission, but letters to the editor are still welcome. They just have to actually say, “letter to the editor.”

As you can see on the page before, we have had two people write letters regarding the stark brusqueness of last week’s message, and one person who stopped by. It is easy to see why these readers are affronted by the language, and I have to agree that it read quite starkly.

But there is a back story here. The reports that have come into our news office over the last year have consisted of a slow, steady rain of questions and confusion. “Why can’t we use a hashtag?” “What if my shipper doesn’t know better and adds a hashtag?” “Why didn’t my grandchildren get their Christmas presents?” “Why was my mail thrown in the trash?”

If the United States Postal Service has provided answers to these questions, we have not seen them. Nor have we heard from the postmistress. We are still trying to get answers from Adminstrator Sherry Jude, but she has not yet responded.

For the record, the Beacon’s publisher and I know who wrote the published letter of complaint. If it had come with no signature, we would not have run it. Like the person who wrote the letter, hundreds of people have come forward and told their post office stories. They don’t necessarily want their names put in the paper at this time. We don’t redact letters to the editor unless there are obscenities contained within. We allow people to voice their opinions, and if others don’t like them or understand them, they can write a letter, too. Our policy at the Beacon is that someone can write a “concerned citizen” letter provided that we have verified the identity of the letter writer, and provided that we can give that person’s name out to someone who comes to us and asks for it.

The crux of the issue is this: We citizens are at the mercy of one person on this island when it comes to getting our mail. We don’t have numerous mail carriers, and we don’t have the option of home delivery. We have just a few people who get our mail off a truck and insert it in our respective post office boxes.

Here are some of the isues raised by residents who have had post office problems:

  • Apparently, many of our island residents are paying for post office boxes, whereas others are not. According to their website, the USPS says, “If the USPS™ does not provide regular mail services to your home, you may be entitled to a no-fee PO Box™. Check with your local Post Office™ to determine whether or not you qualify.” There is no mail delivery to homes in Boca Grande, so should not all citizens qualify for a PO box free of charge? What must one do to qualify?
  • I have found that the USPS website is not at all user friendly to our unique circumstances on the island. For instance, the USPS stresses that you can put a PO box number on your package delivery or a physical address – but not both. This doesn’t hold true for us, as Amazon (one example) doesn’t tell you how your package is being delivered. It might be FedEx or UPS, but if shipping costs are most effective through the USPS they will send it that way. As you know, FedEx and UPS deliver to your house. That means they need a physical address. But the post office only goes by PO box numbers, so there is a conundrum. You have to put both addresses on when that is the case, and if you aren’t exactly perfect about it, your package will not get to you. This leads us into our next point …
  • Why does a hashtag/number sign affect whether I get mail or not? The USPS recommends NOT using a hashtag before the PO box number but does not PROHIBIT it, and apparently the postmistress here does not like hashtags. But many foreign and domestic shippers put them in automatically. This has been the source of many, many packages never getting to their destination.
  • We have several people whose grandchildren didn’t get their Christmas presents, because they were sent to the PO boxes of island residents – their grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. – and the children’s names were not registered with the USPS to the PO box. Yet In Placida and Englewood, post office packages for houseguests were delivered to the PO boxes of the registered boxholders. It seems that different area post offices have noticeably different delivery standards.

We have heard an astonishing number of stories from residents about lost or misdirected items: medications, clothing, expensive purchases, insurance claims and more, because of what were minor variants in the way the delivery was addressed. And, as of press time, nothing has been made right for the claimants by the USPS or the local post office.

It might be a good idea to sign up for something called “informed delivery.” Boca Grande post office boxholders are eligible for this, and I signed up successfully. It shows you a week’s worth of mail, as well as items that are on their way to you. The mail is scanned, so you receive a picture of the front of it. There is also a box you can check if you did not receive the mail. Just something to think about.