TUPELO – Residents and elected leaders harshly opposed the U.S. Postal Service plans to consolidate Tupelo mail operations during a packed public hearing Wednesday night.
Some 200 people attended the meeting in the Link Centre auditorium to learn more about the possible consolidation and have a chance to voice concerns.
After a brief video and words from the USPS’s Mississippi consumer affairs manager and district manager, 20 people from the audience took turns speaking. All criticized the plan, which would cut six jobs from the Tupelo office and save $181,000.
“This plan is wrong,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr., who called it a “slippery slope” that will descend into further job loss and revenue declines.
“This plan is wrong for the United States Postal Service,” he said. “This plan is wrong for Tupelo. It is just plain wrong.”
Reed’s statement elicited applause from the crowd, which included other city and county officials and representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss, and U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both R-Miss.
Tupelo is one of more than 65 cities nationwide whose mail-processing operations were targeted for consolidation with other facilities.
The moves are part of a comprehensive strategy to cope with declining mail volume, said state District Manager Elizabeth Johnson. She provided figures showing a drop of 26 billion pieces of mail in the past year alone and said equipment and resources are sitting idle as a result.
Under the plan, the USPS would send all the outgoing mail that Tupelo currently processes to Memphis, where it’d be postmarked, sorted and shipped out to various destinations.
Tupelo processes mail from ZIP codes starting with 388.
“We need to make significant adjustments,” Johnson said, “just as any business would.”
Johnson said the consolidation would not hurt customer service or mail delivery and that all employees would keep their jobs, though some might be transferred to other cities.
But many who spoke doubted Johnson’s assurances.
Tupelo resident J.W. Young Jr. said his Newsweek magazines, which used to come each Tuesday, have been delayed by as much as one week since they started going through Memphis about five years ago.
Young’s testimony was supported by several Tupelo postal employees, who said the magazines and flat-rate mail already routed through Memphis are consistently late.
“Imagine when they have all our mail,” said Lindsay Miller.
Postal employee John Stanford said nearly half of all Tupelo’s outgoing mail is addressed to other 388 ZIP codes, meaning if it’s shipped to Memphis it’d come right back.
Tupelo resident Tom Hewitt said that doesn’t make sense: “How can money be saved by shipping mail 100 miles away to sort it and then shipping it back 100 miles? I like things to make sense, and that doesn’t make sense.”
Others criticized the relatively small amount of money to be saved by the consolidation and suggested the USPS save it elsewhere.
Postal union member Amanda Berryhill mentioned a $96-per-person meal tab the USPS incurred during a September 2008 conference and said, “had you skipped dessert, you could have saved Tupelo.”
The meal tab, which totaled $355,451, was detailed in an audit released last month by the USPS inspector general. It highlighted more than $792,000 in unjustified expenditures during one five-month period even as the USPS reported losing $3.8 billion.
Some speakers, like Lee County Supervisor Darrell Rankin, questioned the wisdom of cutting six local jobs to save $181,000 when the U.S. government is spending “billions of dollars to stimulate the economy and create jobs” nationwide.
And Tupelo resident Brooks Marr said she most fears losing the city’s postmark. If consolidation passes, outgoing mail will be stamped with a Memphis postmark unless customers bring their mail to the Tupelo post office and specifically request a local postmark.
Marr said the Tupelo postmark is important to tourists who come from across the globe to send cards and notes from Elvis Presley’s hometown. They can’t always find a post office, she said.
“And for our boys fighting and dying in Afghanistan, it really means something to them to get a letter from home with a Tupelo postmark on it,” Marr said to standing ovation.
“Memphis is one of the top 10 highest crime cities in the country,” she continued. “I don’t want my postmark marked in Memphis.”
The USPS will continue its study of the Tupelo consolidation for several more weeks before announcing a decision. The public will be informed when that happens, said Doug Kyle, consumer affairs manager for the state.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The plan would:
– Consolidate processing with Memphis
– Create a savings of $181,000 for the Postal Service
– Result in the loss of six jobs
Comments must be postmarked by Jan. 28 and sent to:
Manager Consumer Affairs
P.O. Box 99655
Jackson, MS 39205-9655
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal