Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Post Office closings show defect of district council seats

The U.S. Post Office is (again) considering closing various stations around the country due to their huge budget deficit. Both the Point Place and Manhattan stations in North Toledo are on the list. Point Place was targeted for closure several years ago as well.

And in case you've forgotten or are a new reader of my blog, I live in Point Place, Toledo's Council District 6.

Lindsay Webb, the City Council District 6 representative which includes Point Place, is rightly concerned. She points out that if the Point Place station closes, the next closest one, Manhattan, won't be open if the USPS goes ahead with their plans. The options for people in the North End would then be to travel to the Sylvania Avenue, Tremainsville or downtown stations. And she is right when she says that this would be detrimental to many individuals in the area and in her district.

But the USPS is facing huge deficits and needs to make some serious changes in their operations. They need to cut costs and reduce their size in order to continue without being a drain on the public treasury.

Now, many financial issues the USPS faces are beyond their control. Congress has mandated, by law, various provisions for their pensions, to the point where they've overpaid that fund by about $50 billion according to some calculations.

Additionally, their pay schedule is higher than private sector firms with which they compete (UPS and FedEx). Under current law, arbitrators who decide wage disagreements are not allowed to take into account the financial condition of the agency when ruling on disputes.

Certainly, there are steps the USPS can take to reduce costs. Many have suggested eliminating Saturday service. I'd support them eliminating a day of service, but I wouldn't pick the one that most people who work rely upon. I'd have them close on Mondays and I'd even support them delivering mail on the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday schedule.

They can use more automated kiosks and contract with grocery stores and other retail outlets in places where they don't want to have an actual physical building. This seems to have worked well for many banks that station mini-offices in Wal-Mart and other businesses. Customers seem to like the convenience as well.

Congress can even allow them to expand their offerings beyond their federal mandate and truly begin to operate like a business rather than a government service.

But those changes aren't enough to address the continuing near bankruptcy the agency finds itself in, and closing stations is probably a necessary component of getting their financial house in order.

Enter a district councilwoman who, because of the nature of the office, is hired to be an advocate for the people and area she represents.

The decision to close the Point Place and Manhattan branches will definitely be detrimental - or at least a huge inconvenience - to the people Webb represents. So, in her efforts to support her constituents, she will oppose those closings.

But if those closings are in the best interest of the agency and the nation as a whole (including the people she represents), is she being 'selfish' in opposing them? Are her constituents?

Don't forget that if the Post Office requires an infusion of money from the federal government, the people in District 6 will have to pay for that cost along with the rest of America.

If her job is to be an advocate for her district, should that obligation be set aside for the 'greater good'? And, if so for the issue of the Post Office, should it also be set aside for other issues that come before her in City Council?

It's not just Lindsay Webb - it's an issue for all district reps. In advocating for their district, they are often put into the position of supporting items that, while good for the district residents, are bad overall. Additionally, the competition for limited funds ends up pitting district against district - or in terrible deals of a rep trading support for a bad project in another district in exchange for support for a project in their own.

It's the balkanization of the city and it is inherent in a district division for representation on a municipal body.

And this would also apply to the proposal to change Lucas County and elect representatives to a charter county form of government.

For the issue of the Post Office, the district reps are in a no-win situation. If the reps oppose the closings, their election opponents will accuse them of being fiscally irresponsible and supporting a continuation of bad financial decisions. If they support the closings for the benefit of the nation as a whole, they will be accused by their election opponents of not supporting the needs of their district.

It's an untenable position.

The Post Office situation just provides a good example of the inherent defect in the structure of district representation.

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