Community Members Upset about Post Office Closings

Concerns raised about alleged disparities

By Chris Flood

A large community meeting turnout and heart-felt passion may save five inner city post office locations from closing, which would eliminate all means of nearby mail services for people in these communities.

A community meeting was held last Wednesday, Oct. 19, to provide a forum where the community could voice their concerns and fears stemming from the proposed closure of five post office locations.

About 50 community members, State Senator Spencer Coggs and Alderwoman Milele Coggs attended the meeting at HeartLove Place on Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. on a cold rainy night to speak to representatives from the U.S. Postal Service who listened to what the community had to say in response to the proposed closings.

Representatives from the U.S. Postal Service were present to document the communities’ concerns, which will be taken into account, along with some other deciding factors, before making the final decision on the closures, Milwaukee Postmaster Paul Nistler said.

The U.S. Postal Service is currently in financial crisis and plans have been put into motion to close thousands of post offices, eliminate Saturday delivery, close mail processing facilities, cut service and lay off 120,000 employees.

This August, Mid-City, Parklawn, Teutonia, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Hampton post offices stations in Milwaukee became the only five post office locations in Southeastern Wisconsin to be announced as possible closures, which is meant to save the postal service from collapsing.

Mayor Tom Barrett, State Senator Spencer Coggs, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Milwaukee Alderwoman Milele Coggs and Common Council president Willie Hines took a stand against the five proposed locations saying it was a target on North Side’s predominantly African American communities.

These elected officials, led by Alderwoman Coggs, urged the U.S. Postmaster General and the U.S. Postal Regulatory commission “to maintain affordable, secure and dependable postal services in the city.”

Community members lined up at Wednesday night’s meeting for their chance to voice their opinions about the closures for the first time since the list of proposed closures was released in August.

A common belief amongst those who spoke from the community was that this decision strongly and directly affects an impoverished, predominantly African American community; why are the only proposed closings in all of Southeastern Wisconsin for five stations that are no more than a 15 minute drive apart from each other?

“Again, a situation where we’re being targeted,” State Senator Coggs said.

“I believe in shared sacrifice,” Coggs said.  “Where is the shared sacrifice in Ozaukee County? Where is the shared sacrifice in Waukesha?”

He continued, “You would rather close a station that serves 30,000 over a station that serves 400?” Coggs said. “Remember, it’s called the U.S. Postal Service because it is supposed to serve the people.”

Alexia Braxley, a 19-year-old community member, spoke about her beliefs behind the proposed closings.

“I was going to sugar-coat it, but I’m not,” Braxley said. “If we didn’t come out today, you’d be closing them,” she said.

“It’s a racial factor; a social factor; it’s an economic issue…why would you harm somebody who is already struggling?  Think about the income in this environment,” Braxley said.

Alderwomen Milele Coggs spoke at the meeting and said this situation “feels like a major blow to the North Side.”

And though the question of neighborhood targeting was brought up numerous times, Alderwomen Coggs does not believe it was ever answered. Though the representatives present at the meeting did not create the proposal, Coggs said somebody could have been sent to answer that question.

There was also an overall belief in the crowd that there should be no reason a community should have to fight for their mail.

Community member Charlotte Litjens stated the U.S. Postal Service “mandate to deliver universal service to an unlimited degree.”

Litjens said, “This squeeze down on this neighborhood—we’re not going to have it…Universal service is universal service.”

Another common concern among the community was that the elderly would have to walk a long distance or travel to get to an alternative location if the one nearby their residence is closed.

Coinciding with transportation issues, if the proposed closed locations are approved those living in the affected neighborhoods will have to then travel to Walgreens, M&I Bank or US Bank as alternate access options for stamps.

Paul Nistler from Postal Milwaukee said five stations are looking at some form of consolidation, but this doesn’t mean they will all close. “All of them may close, half may be closed, or none may be closed,” Nistler said.

Nistler said the proposed locations were selected because they were looking to close locations that had leases coming up.

Though, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be true.  Of the five buildings two are owned, the Martin Luther King location and the Mid-City location, and three are leased, yet all five are up for proposed closure.

Other factors that supposedly went into the decision were said to be:

  • Impact the decision would have on customer and community loyalty
  • Impact the decision would have on employees
  • Cost savings
  • Environmental factors

Also, the amount of vandalism at a specific site was a factor in deciding whether or not to put a location on the proposed closures list.

“I don’t think there’s any possibility that all five stations will be closed,” Nistler said.

Comments and concerns voiced at the community meeting were documented and taken for review before decisions about the proposed closings are made.

Alderwoman Coggs said she hopes that the U.S. Postal Service is being honest in their statements and all of the community member’s concerns will be taken into account when making the final decision.

When a final decision is reached about the proposed closings, Nistler said he would return to personally deliver the message
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