Monday, October 26, 2020

Goodland’s Post Office Remains Closed

Why has it not reopened? It’s complicated


This van was brought down from Tampa on September 13, and opened for business five days later. The engine quit on the 27th and a replacement was sent down on the 28th.

This van was brought down from Tampa on September 13, and opened for business five days later. The engine quit on the 27th and a replacement was sent down on the 28th.

Goodland residents are voicing concern that our post office, despite no visible damage, has not reopened since Hurricane Irma swept through here on September 10. On September 18, some, but not all, mail service was resumed from a postal van sent down from Tampa, but the post office was kept under lock and key. One lane travel and lack of adequate parking have caused congestion in front of the post office as more residents are returning to a devastated town, now devoid of its main nerve and social center.

Six ceiling tiles, discolored from a small roof leak (since repaired), have been removed by Ken Moss pending replacement. This was the only interior damage Irma caused.

Six ceiling tiles, discolored from a small roof leak (since repaired), have been removed by Ken Moss pending replacement. This was the only interior damage Irma caused.

The Kirk family, starting with Bud Kirk, followed by Kappy Kirk and then Tommie D. Kirk, served as postmasters from 1949 to 2003, and have always leased the building (which they built next to their residence in 1955 and rebuilt in 1961, after Hurricane Donna) to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Tommie D. and her husband Ken Moss still own the property.

Ken Moss has been frantically working with the USPS to get the place back open for business. He has run into a bureaucratic nightmare exacerbated by communications disruptions, some of which were caused by Irma. Moss has become extremely exercised and frustrated. “Apparently, the upper echelons [of the USPS] believe that our post office is flattened, flooded, and smashed,” Moss told me on Sept 29, “Nothing could be further from the truth.” A review of email correspondence with the USPS bears him out.

Bradley Davis has cheerfully been delivering the mail from a USPS van parked in front of the Goodland Post Office since September 18. Photos by Barry Gwinn

Bradley Davis has cheerfully been delivering the mail from a USPS van parked in front of the Goodland Post Office since September 18. Photos by Barry Gwinn

Moss, who wasn’t allowed into the building until September 28, reports that aside from a small leak in the building’s flat roof (which he quickly repaired), there was no structural damage to the building. “The only damage was to six ceiling tiles in the lobby,” Moss said, “I removed them and will replace them. Other than that the building was clean and dry.” Moss has removed debris, made all necessary repairs, and got the power back the week of September 18. Since then, the lights are back on, the AC is humming, and the place seems ready for business. “I have done everything they have asked,” says Moss, “No one seems to know what’s happening here. Either they are trying to close the post office or they are completely inept.” Moss has never been able to get a response from Marco Island Postmaster Michael Gomez.

Ken Moss points out pertinent emails to and from the USPS National Leasing Officer, Clarisa Castor.

Ken Moss points out pertinent emails to and from the USPS National Leasing Officer, Clarisa Castor.

Moss has been communicating via email with Clarisa Castor, USPS National Leasing Officer in Denver. A review of those communications confirms that the USPS was unaware of the actual conditions at the Goodland Post Office. Their initial information was that there had been flash flood damage both inside and out, which would require major deconstruction and reconstruction. Moss says that Castor has since acknowledged that this information was from another post office and that there was a mix up. On September 14, the USPS sent inspectors in to assess the situation. They reported numerous water leaks, but no actual damage to the interior of the building. Nevertheless, they concluded that the building was unsafe to open and ordered up a crew to remove the presumably sodden walls and equipment.

Goodland Post Office lobby, looking towards the back of the area (September 29).

Goodland Post Office lobby, looking towards the back of the area (September 29).

Goodland Post Office lobby, looking towards service counter (September 29).

Goodland Post Office lobby, looking towards service counter (September 29).

On about September 20, a contractor and his crew showed up to start ripping out the sheet rock and removing damaged equipment. Through the efforts of Bradley Davis, our postal clerk, this catastrophe was averted and the crews sent home. The contractor was misinformed as to the actual situation here, Davis told me. “I made some phone calls and was told to send the crews home.” The assumption here is that Davis convinced Postmaster Gomez that there was no damage to the interior of the post office. Gomez has not returned my call for a comment on the situation.

A review of emails to and from the USPS disclosed that Clarisa Castor, the USPS Lease Management Specialist in Denver, appears to have struggled mightily to resolve the situation, but from the beginning she has received disinformation about the situation here. In addition, her communications with Moss were sporadic due to widespread loss of power and cell phone service here. For starters, she was informed that due to flash flooding, the Goodland Post Office ceased operations on September 9, the day before the hurricane. Of course there never was any flash flooding, let alone prior to the hurricane.

Armed with this information, Castor did succeed in dispatching an inspection team to Goodland on September 14. She forwarded their findings the next day. The report concluded that, “The building is not safe for USPS operations, due to multiple water leaks into the lobby and workroom (literally, the entire post office).” This conclusion is surprising in view of the fact that the report was otherwise fairly accurate. Their recommendations for fixes and cleanup were also not unreasonable. Moss claims to have complied with every one of them.

By all appearances, he has done so. I took some pictures through the open front door on September 29, and found the lobby and front desk area to be dry, clean, cool, well lit, and ready for business. Davis assured me that the back work area was the same – no damage. Moss had finally been allowed into his building on September 28th and was able to remove the offending six ceiling tiles. He is awaiting permission for reentry to replace them.

On October 2, Castor finally agreed to schedule a second inspection, which was promptly set for October 3. According to Moss, it went well. “The inspector was pretty happy,” Moss said, “He was completely satisfied that I had complied with all USPS requests.”

In the meantime, as it has been since September 18, business will be conducted from the USPS van parked out front, with undelivered bulk mail piling up inside. The van itself is driven back and forth from Marco’s main post office and, according to Davis, the mail is often jostled and mixed up enroute. With winter visitors returning, the situation can only get worse.

Marco Island Postmaster Michael Gomez did not return calls to myself or to Ken Moss throughout this ordeal. He has been apparently communicating only with Bradley Davis, our extremely competent and likable postal clerk. In fairness to Gomez, he was also charged with the repair of seriously flood damaged postal facilities in Everglades City and Chockoloskee. What Gomez did do was to get a USPS mobile van down from Tampa, and get rudimentary services up and running in Goodland a week after the hurricane when the situation was still chaotic. I should add that a senior supervisor at the Marco Island Post Office would only tell me that Moss was unavailable and that he himself could tell me nothing about the Goodland Post Office situation. The overused word – “incredible” – flashed through my mind at the time. I can only guess as to Gomez’s part in this.

For the most part, the efforts to reopen the post office have come from Clarisa Castor, the USPS Lease Management Specialist. Through misunderstandings, misinformation, crossed emails, and communications outages, she was persistent and did succeed in getting an inspection team out to Goodland on September 14. She sent a summary of its findings to Moss the next day. It was also through her efforts that Moss was finally let into his building on September 28. There are manuals and bureaucratic procedures which Castor must follow. I know something of federal bureaucracies, and cannot resist commenting that all things considered, Castor has been moving at warp speed to get this resolved.

Bradley Davis has also been a standout throughout. As Gomez’s point man, he had to walk a fine line between instructions (or lack thereof) from his boss, and pressure from newsmen, landlords, and irate customers as to why the post office had not reopened. By all reports, he has handled it magnificently and seems to have offended no one. We are lucky to have him.

Until two weeks ago, there were as many as four postal inspectors guarding the postal van each work day. They all went into the post office to use the restroom. The two or three that I talked to agreed that they could find no damage or reason to not reopen the post office. It is a terrible waste of postal resources, one said. And so, as the bureaucratic machine clanks on, we await the results of the follow up inspection and hope that Moss’s considerable efforts to set things right will be acceptable.

As of Monday, October 9, , the building inspector had not submitted his presumably favorable final report to Castor (She had so notified Moss). As of Monday, October 9, Moss reports that a new inspector has asked for more repairs, which Moss has done and will so report. Looks like further delays.

Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.

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