Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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The Long Way Home

Here’s a question I ponder, probably more than I should. Am I part of the problem or part of the solution? This leads me to the biggest question: am I just irrelevant?

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about the current state of the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Complaints of USPS service failures from its consumers, especially those in smaller communities and rural areas, have US Sen­ators and Congressmen loudly demanding hearings and other forms of accountability.

The timely movement of mail and parcels has been a core service of government that predates even the blessed founding of our current republic. The first United States Post­master General, Benjamin Franklin, served the same role for more than 29 years when we were just a bunch of colonies owned by the crown.

Political patronage is mainly responsible for selecting who serves as postmaster general. They are chosen and appointed by a Board of Governors comprising 11 members. Of the 11, nine are presidentially appointed governors, one is the postmaster general, and one is the deputy postmaster general. At most, five gov­ernors belong to the same political party. Only the board has the power to remove a postmas­ter general.

The current and 75th Postmaster General is Louis DeJoy. Appointed in June 2020 by the Board of Governors, the 67-year-old business­man brought decades of experience in the fine art of logistics, moving goods from origin to destination. His business, New Breed Logis­tics, was a long-time contractor hauling for the USPS. In 2014, he sold his business for $614 million to a fast-rising company, XPO Logis­tics, that was rolling up logistics businesses of all kinds.

The USPS is 100% owned by the federal government. It exists to provide a well-known and long-established service to the public. It is intended to be revenue-neutral and should not make a profit. I assume that Congress makes sure any losses are covered.

I don’t know DeJoy personally, even though we were both in the freight business. However, his business background, which led to a suc­cessful “liquidity event,” makes me confident that he is a cut above the typical patronage re­cipient. I could be wrong.

However, the USPS faces some long-term challenges that could jeopardize its existence.

Some may remember that Congress passed the Postal Service Act in 1792. One of the leg­islative mandates was that the USPS offer a sig­nificantly reduced rate for newspaper publish­ers. By the end of the 20th century, I became familiar with those reduced rates and all the paperwork and pre-sorting it took to make them happen.

With a newspaper that relied on the postal ser­vice to get to subscribers, I was very impressed with how efficient the service was. Snowbirds received their newspaper in the desert south­west just days after they would have received it on the North Shore.

Over the last twenty years, almost half of the weekly newspapers in our country have closed. That’s a lot of business lost for the contempo­rary postal service.

In addition to reduced newspaper readership, Americans have accepted electronic billing in ever-growing numbers. Companies find savings in paper and postage costs for mail billing pays and then some for the technology needed to go paperless.

The greeting card industry has adopted technology for digital cards delivered over the Internet and social media, making send­ing birthday and anniversary greetings paper and postage-free. However, the prohibitive cost of greeting cards and the postage required to mail them has made people think twice.

At one time, the Bohunk and I had over three hundred names on our Christmas Card list. The list is gone; we haven’t mailed holiday cards in years.

And who writes letters anymore? Or Thank You notes?

I guess we’ve been part of the problem.

In our little corner of the North Shore, the City of Grand Marais is served by a post office building overflowing with PO boxes. Mail delivery is not performed in the city; in­dependent contractors deliver the rural routes. The actual post office employees do a fantastic job for the people of Grand Marais. Kudos to them.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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