Edgartown Post Office staffing woes try customer patience

Difficulties with package and mail deliveries exasperate residents, but the USPS said customer complaints are few.

The Edgartown Post Office has struggled to cope with employee shortages and mail volumes. — Photo by Monica Busch

Unhappiness with service at the Edgartown Post Office boiled over Sunday afternoon, when a woman who expected to pick up three packages on a day designated for package delivery was told they were not available. The frustrated woman, who believed postal employees were withholding her goods, called police to report stolen property.

Sarah Goodhart of Oak Bluffs had tracking numbers for her packages, and according to the tracking information, all three packages had been delivered.

Ms. Goodhart told Officer Nicholas Phelps that the postal worker had refused to so much as look up the packages’ tracking numbers, according to the police report.

After talking to Ms. Goodhart outside the post office, Officer Phelps went into the post office to get to the bottom of the situation. He was told that Ms. Goodhart did not have a post office box, and that those with post office boxes are served first because they are paying customers.

“General delivery is handled after that, and is done for free as a courtesy by the Edgartown Post Office,” Officer Phelps reported he was told.

Officer Phelps provided Ms. Goodhart’s tracking information to the postal worker. The employee found that one package had been delivered to “a gray cluster box” at the end of Ms. Goodhart’s street, a second package was either at her house or in general delivery, and the third’s tracking information did not show up in the computer system.

When Officer Phelps relayed the information to Ms. Goodhart, she told Officer Phelps that no such cluster box existed on her street and she still believed her packages were in the post office. She thanked Officer Phelps for his help, and he suggested she lodge a complaint with the United States Postal Service (USPS).

A Christmas card in April

Edgartown residents are quick to share anecdotes about inefficiencies and obstinate employees at the Edgartown Post Office. Outside the post office Tuesday afternoon, patrons were eager to share their frustrations.

“I’m beginning to start to get mail that I know has been mailed fairly recently from other places,” said lifelong resident Robert Burnham. “That wasn’t the case before. A couple months ago I had local bills from a local lumberyard that used to be sent on the 29th, and I wouldn’t get them until the 10th sometimes.”

“It doesn’t seem like there’s enough manpower in there at times, that’s the main thing,” he said. “You get a line with 15 or 20 people waiting to get mail or do mail service, and there’s one clerk on. I noticed yesterday that the first time in a while, there were two on.”

Mr. Burnham said that he was in Florida for three months this winter. When he got back at the end of April, he received a Christmas card.

“I don’t know what to blame it on. But listening to people in other towns that have post office boxes, they don’t seem to have the same kind of delays as far as getting stuff,” he said.

Mr. Burnham described issues similar to Ms. Goodhart’s: Packages often arrive, according to tracking information, but don’t turn up for long periods of time.

“I had a granddaughter who had stuff shipped and tracked on her phone,” he said. “It would say it came in on Monday at the Edgartown post office. She’d come down on Friday or Saturday, and they’d say they still don’t have it.”

Mr. Burnham said that the post office seemed to be functioning a little more smoothly in the past few days, but why that was the case was beyond him.

Bo Reily, a summer resident from New Orleans, stormed out of the post office Tuesday afternoon, exasperated by the apparent disappearance of a package whose tracking information said it was delivered on August 15. After an unhelpful exchange on Saturday, Mr. Reily stopped by the post office on Wednesday, but immediately walked out when he saw how long the line was.

“‘Even if I had the computer, it wouldn’t help,’ is what he told me,” Mr. Reily said of his Saturday exchange.

Mr. Reily said that his package was sent to his post office box, where he regularly receives mail.

“I think it’s in a big pile back there, is what I think,” he said. “And they have to go through every box to find it.”

Mr. Reily said he has family who have vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard for generations, and that their experiences with the Edgartown post office have never been positive. He compared his two-week wait with stories he’s heard of other patrons who have waited two months to receive delivered mail.

“It’s been futile,” he said.

Chris White, an Island resident for 34 years, said she knows the summer has been particularly difficult at the post office, but that people need to cut the new postmistress, Lisa Panaccione, a break.

“It’s tough,” she said. “Summers are always tough at the post office, but this summer [the postmistress] was extremely short. She had basically one or two people working with her some days. They work as hard as they can, and it is frustrating, and it’s hard when you stand in line and you get up there and nothing’s there. But for Pete’s sake, have a little sympathy for them. It’s been going on for years. It’s nothing new.”

No influx of complaints

A call to the Edgartown postmistress was redirected to USPS communications program specialist Steve Doherty.

Mr. Doherty told The Times that despite the apparent issues at the Edgartown post office, the only real issue that the branch is experiencing is staffing. A number of employees have been on leave or out sick. Other, newer employees are still being trained.

“It was more of a scheduling problem,” he said. “It was unfortunate, obviously, that it coincided with their peak summer season.”

Mr. Doherty said the Edgartown Post Office is “working through it.”

“In the interim, they’re actually shipping people out there from the mainland to try to backfill the positions,” Mr. Doherty said. Off-Island postal workers have traveled to Edgartown on a daily basis to fill in the gaps.

Mr. Doherty said that the area manager was completely unaware of what transpired on Sunday with Ms. Goodhart and her packages, and that, further, consumer services was unaware of any pervasive issues at the branch at all.

“There hasn’t been any real influx of complaints for that post office,” he said. “There are more problems than normal in the past, say, month, or couple of weeks. But again, they’re related to scheduling and staffing issues that they’re in the process of working through, and hope to have resolved within the week.”

Mr. Doherty said that if customers are experiencing mail delivery issues, they should call 1-800-ASK-USPS.

“That allows us to track any kind of trends, and also escalates any problems immediately to senior management so they can be addressed. Unfortunately, if people are having problems and they’re talking about it among the community, but not contacting the Post Office about it, we have no information on our end.”