DISSENTING OPINION OF COMMISSIONER RUTH Y. GOLDWAY
June 18, 2015
This matter involves the closure of a main post office located squarely in a municipal downtown, and the planned substitution of window and post office box services added to an existing mail processing facility on the outskirts of the city.
I dissent from the Commission opinion because I would not dismiss this case. I am concerned that by prematurely terminating a proceeding in which ordinary citizens should have the opportunity to get information and have their say, the procedural fairness of the 39 U.S.C. § 404(d) post office closing appeals process is seriously compromised.
The Commission and the petitioners lack reasonable access to the administrative paperwork describing the Postal Service’s decision, information that is held exclusively by the Postal Service. As a result, neither the petitioners nor the community nor the Commission can fairly ascertain or discuss whether appropriate steps were taken in the decision to relocate the post office, whether the newly designated location will provide adequate service and access to postal patrons, or whether this is even properly categorized as a relocation. The Postal Service has not articulated in its filings how it plans to categorize the retail postal facility slated for the North Platte Processing Facility.
The petitioners are much less familiar than the Postal Service with the interplay of rules governing § 404(d) proceedings, and appear to have had insufficient notice that all administrative documents would be withheld from their inspection. The Commission’s Notice and Order in this docket stated that “[a]fter the Postal Service files the Administrative Record and the Commission reviews it, the Commission may find that there are more issues than those set forth above, or that the Postal Service’s determination disposes of one or more of those issues.”1 The Notice and Order’s procedural schedule states clearly that May 1, 2015 was the deadline for the Postal Service to file the applicable Administrative Record in this appeal. There was no language in the Notice signaling the existence of dismissal procedures. Order No. 2449 at 4. The language of the Notice and Order did not give reasonable notice to participants of the likelihood of a foreshortened proceeding.
Some previous Commission decisions involving the relocation of a post office within a community without the benefit of an administrative record may have relied on more information. Such an interpretation of Section 404(d) in the context of the facts of this case and in the context of title 39, as a whole, does not permit thorough review, contradicts the Commission’s obligation to transparency and accountability, and adds to a growing perception of distinct procedural unfairness in which most appeals and complaints are summarily dismissed at the Postal Service’s request.
Like the petitioner, I am concerned that the mere holding of a meeting before the North Platte City Council failed to satisfy the notice and comment obligations required in advance of a relocation by the Postal Service’s rules. See 39 C.F.R. § 241.4. A December 17, 2014, news report quoting a Postal Service letter to the community stated that the process would include “a meeting with local elected officials to discuss the project, followed by a public meeting to discuss the project with the community….”2 The City Council meeting was not described in the agenda as the public hearing. Id. The Postal Service rejected the community’s request for a full public hearing.3 A presentation and limited public input at one regular City Council meeting may possibly satisfy the letter but certainly not the spirit or intent of the rule. The Postal Service’s statements show that it did not follow its obligations under section 241.4 in this instance.
The Postal Service statement that the proposed service change is a relocation exempt from the § 404(d) appeal process because the new location is only 1.5 miles away from the old location is simply an unsupported assertion, without material evidence or documentation.4 There is no assurance that the members of the community or local elected officials have been consulted for their input and concerns. There is no assurance that considerations such as public transit access, window hours, availability of post office boxes, proximity to businesses and other factors will result in adequate service.
Without additional information is it hard to say whether excising a post office from city center and depositing it on the city’s outskirts meets the obligations of title 39. In light of the circumstances in which a post office is being removed from proximity to its customers, the Postal Service’s statement, highlighted in the Commission’s opinion, that the retail service to be provided that the processing facility will “maintain the same level of access to retail facilities”5 is just plain wrong.
By curtailing the proceeding without the benefit of any supporting documentation, the Commission does not properly serve the people of North Platte, Nebraska and other similarly situated communities.
Ruth Y. Goldway
1 Notice and Order Accepting Appeal and Establishing Procedural Schedule, April 21, 2015, at 2 (Order No. 2449).
2 Liz McCue, Post Office Move Proposed, The North Platte Telegraph, December 17, 2014.
3 Id.; George Lauby, No Public Hearing to Discuss Post Office Closure, The North Platte Bulletin, December 17, 2014.
4 Google Maps and Mapquest indicate driving distances of no less than 2.0 – 2.1 miles between
5 Commission Opinion at 5.