Post offices lose some individuality

"Photo: Mary Jane Aurdal removes some library fundraising material from the Clinton Post Office. Orders from Seattle headquarters are requiring more uniform interiors in post offices in this area.Jim Larsen / staff photoVoice an opinionThe U.S. Postal Service welcomes customer comments on recent changes made in the post offices. Postage-free community service cards are available in all lobbies. Or call the toll-free National Service Center at 1-800-ASK-USPS and request to speak to a manager at the local post office.One person's clutter is another person's treasure -- that's particularly true in post offices these days.For years, South Whidbey's post offices have been the community headquarters for kids' artwork, fund-raising boxes and jars, and handy places to hang posters to advertise events. But the days of free and easy access to the post office shelves and walls appear to be over.Mary Jane Aurdal, a volunteer with Friends of the Clinton Library, recently had to remove materials from the lobby of the Clinton Post Office. She carried out a box in which people could deposit grocery store receipts which were to be turned in to the store for cash to benefit the library. Also taken down were some colorful children's posters celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Week.I'm absolutely so aggravated, Aurdal said. She moved her receipt box across the highway to InterWest Bank, but pedestrian traffic won't be so heavy there. The post office is the hub, our community center -- it's really going to hurt the library.If there's a problem, it isn't with the local postmasters. They're trying to make the new system work with less flexibility than they had before.Ernie Swanson, community program specialist for the Seattle District of the United States Postal Service, said all post offices in the district, which includes South Whidbey, had to make changes by Feb. 28 to make post offices more uniform in appearance. That includes putting postal clerks in uniform.They'll lose some individuality, that's true, Swanson said.There appear to be no hard and fast rules about what's allowed in the post offices, but generally, Swanson said, no taping to glass or doors; push pins are not allowed. And displays will generally be confined to a bulletin board.Each year in May the Langley Post Office becomes one huge children's art gallery, but that may change. When Swanson heard the description of children's art papering the walls throughout the post office, he said, We want it done in an orderly fashion, and suggested that in the future only the winning entries be posted. Even then, the art would have to be hung on a pre-approved bulletin board.Jean Shaw, school district art director, wasn't aware of the postal changes this week, and she expressed concern over the possible loss of art space in the communities. The month of May is children's art month, but Shaw said art is now hung in post offices throughout the year. They loved it, she said of the former post office policy. They said, 'Not just May, we just love it.'Shaw said she was wondering why Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) posters she had expected to see in the post office hadn't materialized.Those posters were to be placed on post office walls by Lorena Welch, a teacher at the intermediate school, where she heads the Competent Kids program. Welch said was told she could not place the posters in the Langley Post Office. I was told it wasn't a possibility because a supervisor had complained, she said. Welch was allowed access to the Clinton Post Office, but the posters were later removed without her knowledge.Welch was also allowed to hang posters in Freeland, but she had to use a special tape that didn't hold the pictures up for long. She said art teachers will miss the access to post office walls. For us, it's a wonderful venue for people to connect, she said.As for donation boxes such as Aurdal's, Swanson didn't flatly rule them out, but admitted, We are discouraging them.A press release quotes Seattle District Manager Dale R. Zinser as saying postal customers want their visit to the post office to be quick and friendly, in a comfortable environment. The changes put in place will make it easier for customers to do business with us . . . the lobbies have been cleaned up with a fresh coat of paint, where necessary, along with new signs and new product displays.We've been mandated to do this lobby clean-up thing, said new Langley Postmaster Jack Harrington. He said he had to turn down Welch's recent effort to hang her children's art in the post office. I had to say no to that and it hurt, he said. It's an unfortunate thing.Harrington said he would like to be able to continue the May children's art display but wasn't sure if he could. Seattle just wants it to be neat, he said.Clinton Postmaster Bill Schwartz, like Harrington, is new to his community, and found that he had walked into a controversy over what's now allowed inside his post office. Certain publications and forms are required, and that's it, he said. Instead of each one (post office) individualized, they want us all to be similar.One South Whidbey postal worker who didn't want to be identified said officials are keeping a close eye on the new restrictions by sending inspectors around unannounced. Secret shoppers are going around, they've been here twice, the worker said.Harrington said he is trying to find some leeway, perhaps by setting aside one small area in the Clinton lobby for nonprofit groups to place items.In Freeland, Postmaster Bill Noack said he is acquiring a larger bulletin board for his lobby and will do a better job of policing entries to limit them to community news and events. It shouldn't be for garage sales and outboard motors, he said.Noack said he still has some children's art hanging in the post office and a box to collect cereal boxtops on a counter. He's not sure if they'll have to be removed or not. They went up before all this, he said, adding that he'll probably be hearing more from the Seattle district in the future.The Seattle District's Swanson expressed surprise that there are objections coming from South Whidbey to the effort to make post offices more uniform.An issue hasn't been made of it before,' he said. Hopefully they'll get used to it in time."

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