Let common sense bloom

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We had an editorial all written. It was set to blast the U.S. Postal Service for its decision to stop a volunteer project at Vineyard Haven Post Office and order the plants uprooted.

Well, now we only have to blast them for being so stubborn as to not allow Bryan Cimeno Jr. to finish the job. Mr. Cimeno and his father were told to stop planting flowers with the job only 75 percent done, so there are flower beds where weeds have been removed, that are tilled and ready for plants.

“Moving forward, we’re not accepting any more donations,” Steve Doherty, a spokesman for the Post Office, told a Times reporter.

The good news is the plants can stay, but this has all the satisfaction of a warm beer. (With apologies to our European visitors.)

Two weeks ago, it seemed like the feel-good story of the summer. The Cimenos wanted to pay tribute to a late family member, Derek Cimeno, who devoted his life to similar good deeds. Then on Tuesday, August 8, a postal supervisor turned it into an incident he called unethical and perhaps even criminal, both so silly it’s laughable.

Up until Tuesday of this week, leadership of the U.S. Postal Service couldn’t give a definitive answer as to what would become of the flowers that were planted. After saying at one point they would have to be pulled, they changed course Wednesday and said the flowers can stay.

But that doesn’t end all of this, does it?

On Tuesday, the Tisbury board of selectmen joined the chorus of people calling on the federal bureaucracy to come to its senses and let the project not only survive, but thrive.

After the initial order to stop work last week, Mr. Doherty explained in an email that it is Post Office policy “to decline offers to donate any physical improvements, including, without limitation, exterior improvements, landscaping, additions, renovations, or maintenance services (individually and collectively, “Physical Improvements”) to Postal Service–owned and –leased properties, if the maintenance and improvements being offered would have monetary value, as determined by the Postal Service.”

People of a certain age will remember the Cliff Clavin character from the sitcom “Cheers,” who would sit on his Boston barstool, in his letter carrier uniform, and spout postal regulations. Why? Because they’re so ridiculous they’re funny.

In this case, it’s sad. The postal service has been losing money, the federal government claims it doesn’t have the budget for upkeep of its properties, and yet here we have a local businessman willing to pitch in and take care of a community eyesore, and it’s rejected.

To what end? A return to the discarded lottery tickets and nip bottles among overgrown weeds that were pulled out by the Cimenos?

That’s not exactly a red carpet for the Vineyard’s thousands of visitors who arrive on ferries every day. And it’s no welcome mat for Island residents, who use the Post Office on a regular basis, either.

In his email, Mr. Doherty cited ethics guidelines for federal employees, who are “prohibited from accepting gratuities from the public unless an exception under the ethics rules applies.”

Employees who violate this law could be prosecuted or fined, he wrote.

This one doesn’t apply at all. There’s no kickback scheme here. A federal employee wasn’t given the flowers in exchange for some favor. This was a simple beautification project that benefited everyone who uses the Post Office or just passes by it every day.

The unfortunate outcome of this situation is that it sends a message to anyone wanting to give back to the community: Your efforts may not be appreciated.

We appreciate the persistence of the Cimenos. We appreciate their willingness to fight back against bureaucracy run amok.

Now we call on postal officials and, in their absence, federal representatives to take the next step and push for a regulation that allows community Post Offices to accept the generosity of their neighbors who are willing to use their own labor, their own connections, and community donations to do something the federal government should be doing on its own. Now that would be a beautiful thing.

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  1. Speaking as a landscaper I can tell you that any landscaping improvement of the type discussed normally creates a maintenance requirement which if unfulfilled can make the improvement worse than the original condition.

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