CUMBERLAND – From the time Derrick Watson was a mere six-year-old boy, his mother always taught him “Nothing beats a failure but a try.”
That's just one reason he's organized a community group called “The Concerned Citizens of Valley Falls – Save Our Post Office.”
When he found out the Valley Falls Post Office indeed would shut its doors for business back on May 5, he immediately began working on an appeal.
On Sunday, May 22, he sent an approximate 34-page appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C., and discovered the next day it had been received. It's docket number is A2011-18.
“I've from New York City – Harlem and The Bronx … and I have fought for community issues all my life, from tenant organizing in the South Bronx in the 1970s to housing for the mentally-ill, street homeless of mid-town Manhattan after 9-11,” said Watson, 56, now living on Abbott St. in Cumberland. “I'm just a tireless advocate, and have no problem picking up a rock and fighting Goliath.
“I'm just that arrogant,” he added. “I discovered on May 5 about the Valley Falls Post Office's closing on July 8, and I knew that decision had to be made in order for us to start our appeal, take the fight to the next level.”
Once he received that document, Watson said, he immediately called Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee and a member of the American Postal Workers Union/Local 387 in Providence.
“This isn't about me; it's about our whole community trying to win this appeal,” he noted while sifting through his appeal papers at the Colonial Bakery, located next door to the post office at 197 Broad St. “We're doing this because it's so inconvenient to go to the Diamond Hill Road post office, which is about 3.5 miles away, and because it would be so expensive with the cost of gas as high as it is.
“You know, I just talked to a gentleman who uses this post office about three times a week,” he continued. “He can't drive because he's physically-challenged, and he can't get to that (facility) on Diamond Hill. It would be impossible for him to get up there, he said, unless someone drives him. He told me (the closing) represents an economic hardship as well.
“He can't buy stamps in bulk because he can't afford it; he's forced to buy stamps as he needs them. Naturally, he's very upset with this decision.”
For Watson personally, he explained he would suffer a hardship as well, as he works as an eBay seller, and often ships parcels directly from the Valley Falls location. He also explained he makes trips to that post office once, if not twice or thrice, a day. He often stops by to send a package just minutes before it closes at 5 p.m.
“I was recently awarded 'top-rated seller' eBay status due to my consistently high feedback ratings, excellent customer service, but mostly for my ability to ship packages very quickly,” he wrote on page 2 of the appeal. “My local post office in Valley Falls has helped me ascend to eBay's top echelon, and I am truly grateful for and appreciative of the excellent and efficient service this … branch provides.”
He also wrote, on page 3, “I respectfully request that the (Postal Regulatory) Commission discern and apply its various laws, statutes and regulations to my community's concerns. I believe that the commission is better versed and more capable of attaching our concerns and citations to the various Postal Regulatory Commission's statutes and regulations.”
In the appeal, he cited the U.S. Postal Service conducted a survey of only post office box holders way back in 2009 to solicit comments as to that location's possible closing, but it failed to survey the entire community, those customers who use it daily.
Watson also indicated, when he first learned of the closing on March 25 via a notice on the front door of the post office, he quickly developed a petition and collected about 420 signatures. He and several other customers attended an April 6 community meeting at Town Hall, one where Mike Powers – a Providence Post Office community relations representative – solicited comments and gripes.
“I and the other attending residents immediately realized that the meeting was never intended to be a 'fact-finding forum' as stated in the public notice,” he wrote in the appeal. “The postal representative … was there instead to close our local post office had already been made.
“Our attendance meant nothing, our petitions meant nothing, and our community's quality of life meant even less. We left the meeting feeling betrayed, but, most of all, ignored.”
The only reason he discovered that an appeal was possible, he said, was because a postal workers' union member revealed such a recourse with the Postal Regulatory Commission.
“That's when the light bulb flashed in my head,” Watson said. “We didn't know that before, and the postal service representative never told us … The other thing that bothers me is that, when they mentioned they did a survey of the P.O. box holders, we never knew the outcome of it. They never told us the results, plus they never polled the post office users, so the survey was not representative of the entire community.”
At that meeting, Powers also revealed that there was an overabundance of post offices on Cape Cod, so many, in fact, “that you could almost throw a stone from one location to another,” he said. Despite that fact, Valley Falls was deemed the one most expendable in the entire New England region.
“The citizens of Valley Falls, the mayor of the town of Cumberland and our local businesses then realized that we were being denied our statutory rights as residents and postal customers,” he wrote. “It is for these reasons that we appeal to the commission to intervene, suspend and reverse the USPS' decision to close our much needed local post office branch.”
PRC officials explained to him he had to file such an appeal on its Web site. He claimed he had to create a user name and password, then a document, turn it into a “pdf” and attach it to the appropriate docket number. All comments and complaints must be done the same way.
“That site is very difficult to navigate; I had problems with it, and I have an 'IT' (informational technology) background, so just imagine how any normal computer-user feels about it,” he explained. “That's why I set up a request for waiver of electronic filing. Most people prefer to just write down their complaints and comments, so I'm going to mail them in. I've received dozens already.”
He also indicated that “SOPO” would host a rally on Tuesday, May 31 (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) in front of the Valley Falls building.
“We're not finished fighting yet,” he insisted. “At the rally, we're going to inform customers and other people about where we are in the appeal process, and also gather more comments … The original petition we set up as part of the appeal process was only the customer's name, what town or city they lived in, how long they resided there and how many visits to the post office they made a week, not to mention their signatures.
“We collected about 420, but now we need to get those same people to comment individually about why they want, they need, for it to stay open,” he added. “These written documents, I believe, will help bolster our initial petition, and our appeal as a whole. Right now, we also have another petition being circulated throughout the business community. That will be included as additions to the appeal.
“This has nothing to do with the postal workers here,” he said, pointing to his beloved post office standing less than 10 yards away. “They're great. You know, I've used six or seven post offices in Rhode Island, and this is easily the best I've ever been to. There's never a long line, and it's so efficient in services. It's so comfortable to come here. It's not drudgery like other places.
“But if this appeal fails, it would probably put me out of business (with eBay). It would make my shipping costs so prohibitive, it wouldn't make sense to do it anymore. The good news is the PRC is going to produce a schedule that outlines what steps must be taken during the appeal process. We'll have the dates where we must submit other documents.”
He noted the PRC also will appoint an advocate to represent the public interest during the appeal.
When asked if he and approximately 400 others could fight the U.S. Postal Service and win, Watson just grinned, “Like my mother said, if you don't try, you've already lost. Nothing beats a failure but a try.”