First things first: everyone in a town is negatively affected by a post office closure, therefore everyone in the town is a potential ally. Individual political concerns (conservative, liberal, progressive, pro-gun/anti-gun, &c.) have nothing to do with fighting to keep a post office open.
Some people who would otherwise be intractable political rivals can be invaluable allies in a post office fight: use every last one of them. Our most important ally in our fight was the gun shop owner here in town.
On saving a Post Office: organisation is key. You must organise and prepare to rebut every document issued by the Postal Service. (If you are not good at accounting then finding an accountant who will do the work of forensic accounting on the Post Office's paperwork is vital.)
We first obtained a copy of the first closure study. (Your postmaster has it, but is not permitted to show it to you unless you ask.)
Once you get that closure study, make a copy of it to take home. (The Post Office mayn't let it out of the office but can copy it for you if you ask, though there might be a charge for the service.)
Then go over every single issue in the study with a fine-toothed comb. We also obtained the assistance of the three postal unions and the Retired Postmasters Association. We made sure they got copies of the closure study, sent by Certified Mail with Return Receipt (to ensure they were not lost in the mail).
We found that the numbers regarding the lease for the building were suspicious: we obtained a copy of the lease from the leaseholder (a person in another state) and verified they were. My wife had to obtain the leaseholder's name and address from the tax rolls at the county tax assessor's office: that was information the postmaster did not have available.
We also found the amount of money taken in by our post office to be suspiciously reported low, but not by our postmaster. As it turns out, the gun shop right across the street does more Registered Mail business by itself than the entire amount the USPS claimed our Post Office took in. At the closure meeting, he brought all of his Registered Mail receipts to refute the USPS's claim about the money our local post office took in.
We wrote every single US Senator, our US Representative, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice-President Joe Biden. (The Vice-President gets less mail than the President; my brother-in-law once wrote then Vice-President Dick Cheney to clear up an endless snafu about his wife's entry visa to the United States and it was cleaned up in a matter of days.)
As it happens, in addition to being a software engineer my wife also has a business degree. She combed the numbers and found that both the software used to generate them and the numbers themselves were crap.
We then organised a mail drive to every single address in our Zip Code. (You can obtain a list from your Post Office. There is also a programme where you can mail letters to every address in your Zip Code for a discount rate, but your mailing must meet certain requirements: your Postmaster should be able to tell you how to do it.)
We organised a mass mailing to ensure everyone in the Zip Code area was at the meeting scheduled by the Postal Service. It was held at our volunteer Fire Brigade, and there were so many people the fire hall could not hold everyone.
Each person who posited a question to the speakers posed a question that was not emotion based (please don't close my favourite post office), but contained factual data (the plan was to deliver our mail from another post office forty miles away. The plan included leaving packages out exposed to the elements for pickup as well as money in the mailbox for money orders and postage. That issue was framed around both theft of mail and robbery of postal clerks.)
The gun shop owner brought all his Registered Mail receipts (as gun shops are required to keep them for inspection by ATF) so he could also rebut the figures offered by the Postal Service. (If you have one or more gun shops in your area, their help is invaluable because of the Federal records and Registered Mail receipts they are required to keep. The same goes for banks and government agencies.)
Make sure every questioner notes how the closure of the post office will negatively impact the community: its business, its government operations (our village government is required to mail water samples to be tested every week, banks are required by Federal law to have one-day mail to in-town customers, &c), the impact on farms and ranches and businesses employment costs (if you have to send an employee every day six miles to do business with the Post Office it negatively impacts your farm or business bottom line), &c.
We also contacted our state senators, and our Federal representative and senators, who sent staffers to the event. Our state senator showed up himself. We also contacted the press in the area to ensure there was press coverage of the event.
My wife ripped apart the first study at her turn to speak, tearing apart the software used to generate the report and the numbers used to explain away the price of the lease and getting out of it. She also distributed copies of the lease and her figures to the representatives of the Postal Service and our congressional staffers present. The USPS officials said they had not seen the lease. (Closing our Post Office would have still left USPS on the hook for years of rental payments.)
The USPS officials sent to such events are not prepared to answer hard questions about the actual figures and software used to ascertain whether a post office is "profitable." They are primarily sent as sacrificial lambs to take heat from angry citizens.
Faced with factual rebuttal they could not refute, they were held in a scheduled hour meeting for more than four hours, humiliated by their lack of preparation, by a town of 128 people and those in the rural area around Broadwater served by our Post Office.
We made sure everyone in town answered all questionnaires mailed by the postal service: we went to check in person.
In the end, they withdrew the first closure study and posited a second. Then a third when we refuted that in our rebuttal by mail. Then they withdrew the third. The Retired Postmasters' Association told us they'd never heard of a case where the Post Office issued three closure studies before.
It cost us over $100 in postage to do all the mailings. After it was all over, my wife and I received an anonymous letter (no return address) in the mail with ten $50 bills in it and a thank you note for saving the Post Office.
Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon noted in 2011 the Postal Regulatory Commission had found that maintaining rural post offices amounts to only 0.7 percent of the Postal Service’s budget.
There is a Senate Bill (S 1789, 112th Congress) under consideration that would prohibit closing Post Offices separated more than ten miles from each other. The two bills (the other next paragraph) need to be reconciled.
A House Resolution (HR 630, 113th Congress) would eliminate the 75-year prefunding of health care benefits and permit the Postal Service to enter into any sort of service deemed in the public interest (that would include a Postal Savings Bank, something that Senator Elizabeth Warren has touted).
Make sure that in any letter to Representatives or Senators you cite these bills and why you support them.
We then took on the Post Office in the next town to the east (Lisco). Poor saps from the Postal Service, they were the same people we'd ripped apart in Broadwater. We'd gotten with the bank manager of Lisco State Bank (who was organising the effort in Lisco) and compared notes weeks in advance. My wife could concentrate specifically on the software, because the bank president could easily cover the financial issues herself.
We sat in the front row and in the centre: the poor folk on the stage looked at us and actually cringed, knowing what sort of questions we would ask to stir up the ranchers and farmers that had to take off from their work early to be at the meeting (because the Postal Service selected a time in an agricultural area specifically selected to interfere with agricultural work). The person fielding the questions in the American Legion hall made sure my wife was the first one to ask a question.
The second person was the owner of the Post Office building, who flew all the way from Seattle Washington to be at the event to rebut the bogus lease figures in the LIsco study.
By the time the hall was done with them, those folk could not wait to get out of Lisco and back to Omaha. Lisco's office was also saved.
Note: The Postal Service is also considering reducing hours at a number of post offices. Reducing hours does not require studies, though the USPS sends out surveys to all addresses affected.
These surveys do not give you a blank for "don't change the hours." The Post Office is not required to get any specific approval to reduce hours.
Make sure you write in what you think if the form does not have your answer.
A Post Office does not require a closure study to close it if there is no Postmaster present in the office. If your postmaster is retiring/transferring/moving, make sure you contact your Federal and state representatives and senators to get a new one assigned.
Make sure you also fill out a Post Office comment card (available at your post office) requesting a new postmaster. Ofttimes another person in the post office can be promoted to postmaster.
EDIT: Corrected spelling of Senator Jeff Merkley's name.
Comments are closed on this story.