Congressman requests immediate review of “loophole” the USPS may be using to close offices
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Mark S. Critz (PA-12) sent a letter to the Postal Regulatory Commission today requesting an immediate review of concerns that the United States Postal Service (USPS) may be deliberately labeling post office lease holders as “unreasonable” in an attempt to close postal centers outside of the public review and appeals process. Congressman Critz found this to be the case with post offices in Derry, East Vandergrift, New Florence and Sipesville.
“Over the past few months, my office has discovered multiple instances where post office lease holders have agreed to the exact terms set forth by the USPS, only to be told after agreeing to these terms that these centers would be closing anyway,” wrote Congressman Critz, who is already on record as fighting the planned closures of 33 postal centers in the 12th Congressional District. “In other words, I fear that the USPS believes it has identified a loophole through which they are free to close hundreds, if not thousands, of postal centers without question.”
Postal centers that are part of the larger feasibility study require a public meeting and have an appeals process built in. Congressman Critz has already collected hundreds of such appeals in the event of actual closures in these towns. The study targets by name 3,600 centers nationwide. Concern that lease issues were being used as a separate means to close even more centers prompted the Congressman’s review.
“The American people deserve the truth in terms of what exactly the USPS is attempting to do,” added Congressman Critz. “The inability to work a lease agreement with one landlord in a community does not give the USPS the right to simply abandon that community. I have been upset from the very beginning that the feasibility study currently being conducted by the USPS unfairly targets rural Pennsylvanians, and discovering these issues involving lease agreements only deepens my frustration and warrants an immediate investigation by the Postal Regulatory Commission.”
Below and attached is Congressman Critz’s letter to the Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission:
March 22, 2012
The Honorable Ruth Goldway
Postal Regulatory Commission
901 New York Avenue, Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20268-0001
Dear Chairman Goldway:
It has come to my attention that the United States Postal Service (USPS) may be unfairly and inaccurately labeling many post office lease holders as “unreasonable” in a deliberate effort to close postal centers outside the review and appeals process. Over the past few months, my office has discovered multiple instances where lease holders have agreed to the exact terms set forth by the USPS, only to be told after agreeing to these terms that these centers would be closing anyway.
As you may know, I am strongly opposed to the postal closings that have been identified by the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI) study, which has identified 33 postal centers for closure within my Congressional District. It has been well established that these closings are rejected by the communities involved, and that the public meetings held to this point to discuss these closures have fallen well short of the expectations of a public meeting. The lack of information has left citizens uninformed and deeply suspicious of the USPS and its motives for closure, particularly when it appears that rural communities have been unfairly targeted.
The postal centers that I am bringing to your attention are not associated with the over 3,600 identified by the RAOI study, but rather are leased centers that appear to be targeted for closure under the false pretext of failed rental negotiations. My fear of this practice is based on the numerous complaints my office has fielded concerning lease agreements for postal centers in Westmoreland and Somerset Counties, Pennsylvania. These centers, located in Derry, East Vandergrift, New Florence and Sipesville, are currently set to close because of “unreasonable” lease holders.
Property owners in Derry and East Vandergrift have provided me with their former lease agreements as well as the newly negotiated terms. In both instances, the current lease holder agreed to the terms as proposed by the USPS – only to be given a notice of lease termination. Such closings take place without public meeting and without any means of appeal from the affected communities.
It is difficult to grasp how a lease holder, who has agreed to the new terms of a lease by offering a substantial cut in rent, can be then termed “unreasonable.” That these centers are targeted for closure, despite accepting the terms as set forth by the USPS, leaves one to believe that the USPS is using these talks as a means to close centers without any sort of public review or the ability for the public to appeal as set forth in the current governing regulations. In other words, I fear that the USPS believes it has identified a loophole through which they are free to close hundreds, if not thousands, of postal centers without question.
In New Florence, the lease holder has provided detailed information where the USPS asked for a 10 percent reduction in rent and a 180-day out clause. The lease holder agreed to the rent reduction but raised objection to the notion of such an “out clause” because it makes the length of a lease pointless. Without further discussion, the USPS sent a termination notice. The lease holder maintains that had any actual negotiations taken place, they would have agreed to the out clause and even now stands ready to rent the center at the reduced rate with the clause as requested by the USPS. Even on this level, it is difficult to see how this constitutes a lease disagreement or an unreasonable lease holder. In this case, the lease holder is not an individual citizen with limited assets unaccustomed to market pressures, but rather a professional lease management company that certainly understands fair market value and the process of a reasonable negotiation.
I am concerned with how widespread this problem may actually be. Just over the last few days, I discovered the pending closing of the Sipesville Post Office in Somerset County over another lease issue. This is a closing that was decided in January of last year, and has only now come to my attention as a result of my own review. I am troubled with how many other Post Offices might be in a similar situation, or are about to be.
The American people deserve the truth in terms of what exactly the USPS is attempting to do. Already they feel as if information has been kept from them or that a “feasibility study” is in fact a foregone conclusion of closure. That lease holders who are agreeing to significant reductions are being labeled as “unreasonable” as a means to circumvent due process. This is unacceptable, and an explanation needs to be given. While no one expects the USPS to be held hostage by a truly “unreasonable” landlord, I do not believe that the law stipulates that the relationship between the USPS and the citizenry has anything to do with any one lease holder. In other words, the USPS inability to work a lease agreement with one landlord in a community does not give them the right to simply abandon that community.
I request your immediate review of these concerns, and I strongly urge the Postal Regulatory Commission to investigate theses charges. Without immediate action, I fear that many of our postal centers will be unfairly closed without the benefit of a public review or appeal.
Mark S. Critz
Member of Congress
cc: The Honorable Patrick Donahoe, Postmaster General and CEO, United States Postal Service