Postal mystery near Sen. McCain’s old prep school

Update: A link to an official postal complaint form is at the end of this post, although it might be too late to complain. Also see follow-up documenting the Seminary branch’s more than $250,000 in annual revenue. – D.R.

Arizona Sen. John McCain‘s politics are oceans apart from mine—I’m far more to the port side.

But in his time, this plucky ex-prisoner of war has spoken up against his share of government-related stupidities.

So here’s a bureaucratic mess in my neighborhood that perhaps the Senator can look into.

Why is a historic post office—at Virginia Theological Seminary, adjoining the former presidential candidate’s prep school—on the Postal Service’s endangered list even though it’s almost surely making a profit?

The Senator is a proud 1954 graduate of the elite Episcopal High School near me in Alexandria, VA. While the Theological Seminary Post Office doesn’t serve Episcopal these days, I’d be curious if it did in the distant past, given the proximity and the fact that Bradlee Shopping Center housing the Parkfairfax PO wasn’t built until the 1950s. Might the Senator or earlier Episcopal students have used the Seminary branch at one time?

Whatever the case, Sen. McCain and I would almost surely disagree on the postal reform issue in general; he’s pushing a bill that would let the U.S. Postal Service end Saturday deliveries—a measure that I consider unnecessary, given the bizarre financial burdens that Congress has imposed on the postal retirement plan. But if fiscal relief is the goal here, then why is the Seminary PO targeted for possible closure—despite the branch’s probable black ink?

In constant use by the Theological Seminary

“If it closes, it’s going to have a big impact because it’s our school post office,” WTOP radio has quoted Heather Zdancewicz, vice president for administration and finance for the seminary, and she voiced similar sentiments to me—she has even documented this with a survey. Here’s another interesting fact. The seminary supplies the PO branch building and pays major expenses other than the salary of the postmistress. Granted, it files paperwork elsewhere; but the actual services are provided through the seminary branch. Not the worst deal for the taxpayers.

Whatever the accounting in use here, the scuttlebutt is that the Seminary branch is tens of thousands of dollars in the black. True? I won’t even mention the figure, it’s so high. I have tried in vain so far to get a return call on this topic from Tom Harris, a postal official; and Sharon Annear, an aide to Alexandria city council member Alicia Hughes, is following up (in line with the wishes of President Nancy Jennings of the Seminary Hills Association, who was tracking this issue long before I started).

Since the Seminary post office draws a stream of regulars, I’d be shocked if it were losing money. More likely this branch is reducing the postal service’s losses—which, if true, should cheer a fiscal hawk like Sen. McCain. On top of that, I can vouch for the quality of service that Terri the Postmistress has given. The branch is part of the glue that holds the neighborhood together. What’s more, although the Parkfairfax branch in the Bradlee Center is within a mile or so by road, the lines can be long, and shutting down Seminary would just lengthen them. What’s more, parking can be dicey.

Senator, I hope you’ll keep an open mind. Years ago your predecessor, Barry Goldwater, likewise my political opposite, had the guts to speak out against a ban on communist speakers at the University of North Carolina. Based on a letter in clear Goldwater English, I reported his gutsy comments in the Daily Tar Heel. That is what government should be about—open-mindedness and courage. I hope you’ll do a Goldwater. Tell the Postal Service to share with us all documents supposedly making the case for the possible closing. Shouldn’t the service, as part of its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, release the full financials for the Seminary branch—the actual paperwork? (Update, Oct. 24: See next entry for the basic financial information in regard to the closing.)

Also, Sen. McCain, I’d love to know how you feel about the way the postal service went about collecting opinions on the possible closing. It has made available a complaint form only on paper and simply  gave a postal box number in Winchester, VA—as opposed to allowing digital replies by form or e-mail. Who cares about those of us who, although less reliant on first class mail in the Internet era, are highly dependent on delivery services for sending or receipt of packages? I couldn’t agree more with Sen. McCain that the postal service is broken. My own solution would be to smarten the dino up, modernize it, and trim waste (as opposed to slowly killing off the PO). Closing an almost surely profitable branch is not the way to watch out for us taxpayers.

Update, 8:35 p.m., October 14: In PDF format, here’s a copy of the complaint form. It should go to the Post Office Review Coordinator, P.O. Box 3603, Winchester, VA 22604. The comment deadine was Tuesday, but ideally the postal service will show a little commonsense.

Update, Octobber 31: No reply yet from McCain’s office.

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David Rothman

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