The City of Winchester, Illinois, has just filed an appeal with the Postal Regulatory Commission challenging the Postal Service’s decision to close the post office over a lease renewal issue.
Winchester is the county seat of Scott County, and its post office serves several government agencies, the administrative offices for the public school system, and numerous businesses. The post office to which Winchester customers have been directed is in Jacksonville, 19 miles away.
The lease on the Winchester post office expired on January 15, 2016, but the post office remained opened while negotiations for renewing the lease continued. According to papers filed with the appeal, a USPS representative emailed the owner of the building on March 25 to say that the Postal Service “looked forward to finalizing the terms of our renewal” and that someone from CBRE, the Postal Service’s real estate agent, would be in contact “shortly.” But no one from CBRE called.
Over the following weeks, the owner contacted the Postal Serve representative four more times, and each time he was told CBRE would be in touch. That didn’t happen. Instead, at the end of March, the owner received a call from the Winchester city attorney saying that the city had been informed that the Postal Service would be closing the post office and eventually relocating.
At the end of April, the owner apparently gave up on the negotiations and told the Postal Service it had to be out by May 28.
On May 11, the Postal Service informed the patrons of the Winchester post office that the lease negotiations were not successful and the post office would be closed for an emergency suspension on May 21. The Postal Service told customers it would be moving forward to find a new location, but in the meantime customers would need to use the post office in Jacksonville.
The appeal filed by the city attorney notes that the Postal Service had ample time to negotiate a lease renewal. “Our present situation is neither sudden, nor unexpected, nor an emergency,” he writes. Moreover, the landlord is still willing to continue negotiations and he is hopeful the post office will remain open during the negotiations.
Winchester’s attorney is concerned that the Postal Service does not intend to reopen a post office in the city. There is good reason to be concerned. As he notes in his appeal, in the annual compliance review for 2015, the Postal Service told the PRC that at the beginning of FY 2015 there were 38 post offices under suspension in the Great Lakes Area. During the year, 16 more were suspended in the Great Lakes Area. At the end of the year, 52 were under suspension. Only two post offices had reopened.
Those statistics, says the city attorney, “would strongly indicate that the Postal Service is using its suspension authority to avoid the explicit Congressional instructions to hear and consider the concerns of patrons before closing post offices.”
The City has asked the PRC to direct the Postal Service to keep the post office open while the appeal is heard, but the Postal Service may have already decided to keep it open for a while longer. The post office did not close on May 21 — the date on which the Postal Service told customers that it would be closing — and as of today, May 26, the post office is still open.