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Government officials speak out on Brainerd mail delivery issues

Eighth Congressional District Rep. Pete Stauber said Thursday he received a number of calls from those concerned about delays in their mail delivery from the U.S. Postal Service.

A woman stands in the post office near a package pick up area.
A woman stands in the Brainerd Post Office Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, near the package pickup table.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — With the holiday season in the rearview mirror, unreliable mail delivery from the Brainerd Post Office continues to frustrate some lakes area residents while elected officials look for answers.

One East Gull Lake resident, who wished to not be identified, said Thursday, Jan. 5, she is still waiting on mail sent to her at the beginning of December but she isn’t getting any answers. The lack of communication from the post office is frustrating, she said, and led her to waste hours of her time waiting in line only to return home empty-handed.

“Everyone has a horror story,” she said. “As we’re standing there for those many hours, in the freezing cold, you heard people's stories. One woman was there sobbing because her sister’s partial remains were supposed to have been delivered, and people were coming for the memorial service and she wasn’t getting the package. Mothers who have small children were sobbing because their kids weren't getting their Christmas gifts.”

While waiting, the woman said she overheard an employee say 18 pallets of mail in the back were yet to be sorted. So the resident called to complain about the amount of unsorted mail sitting in the back of the post office.

“I did finally get a hold of someone at the USPS through an 800 number. And when I told her about what was happening here, she was a little awestruck by that,” the woman said. “ … She said, ‘I'm going to write this out, and give it to someone who will actually read what is happening here and not just pass it off.’

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“Within four hours, someone locally … called me and was very defensive and upset that I had called and registered a complaint.”

Also hearing from baffled customers are government officials, from those at the city level all the way up to Congress.

Eighth Congressional District Rep. Pete Stauber said Thursday he received a number of calls from those concerned about delays in their mail delivery from the U.S. Postal Service.

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber

“There was a constituent from Brainerd who didn't get the mail to her house for over three weeks,” Stauber said by phone from Washington, D.C. “That's just unacceptable. And so the answer is yes, we've had a number of constituents very concerned about the delayed mail delivery to their homes.”

With everything from medications to Social Security checks and pension checks arriving in people’s mailboxes, the delays are affecting those who may not have ready access to a doctor or pharmacy, the Congressman said — specifically, those who live in rural Minnesota.

“We're seeing the grave concerns that are negatively affecting our families across (the) Northland,” Stauber said.

The problem is not just a Minnesota one, Stauber said, noting he’d spoken with other representatives from across the Midwest also hearing from their constituents.

“No. 1, it's unacceptable,” Stauber said. “And No. 2, we’re working on it.”

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Stauber said he has been working with his delegation to get answers from the Postal Service as to why so much mail is delayed and how the backlog of deliveries can be resolved.

“I just want my constituents to know it's a priority for me and my colleagues to fix this to ensure that the mail delivery is not delayed and it's on time six days a week,” Stauber said.

Stauber ended the interview Thursday to return to the House floor to vote for the speaker of the House for the ninth time.

Earlier this week, in a 3-1 vote, the Crow Wing County Board passed a resolution encouraging the U.S. Congress to supply more resources to local post offices to help them recruit staff.

Postoffice2.jpg
Dale Bartel leaves the Brainerd Post Office Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, after picking up his packages.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Commissioner Paul Koering said he initiated the resolution along with now-former Commissioner Bill Brekken after hearing from many county residents about the issue.

“I’m hearing from quite a few people that are claiming they’ve gone 10, 12 days without any mail delivery whatsoever,” Koering said. “As we all know, seniors, senior citizens, a lot of people receive their prescription drugs by mail. So this is kind of a catastrophic deal when you’re not getting your medications.”

Koering added he’d heard from a township government official concerned about missing a deadline to cash a check from the state, from people running home businesses who cannot send or receive invoices in a reasonable amount of time and people who are receiving bills after they’re already past due.

“This is certainly nothing against the hardworking people that are working here in Brainerd, Baxter and so on and so forth. But I think what it is, is the post office has run a certain way for the last 100 years, and I just don’t know if that’s working anymore,” Koering said. “And so this is to, I guess, kind of alert our congressional delegation that there’s some problems here and the County Board is very, very concerned about it.”

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Chairwoman Rosemary Franzen said she’s also received calls and reached out to the Brainerd Post Office and the Baxter annex, hearing they were short-staffed. She said she does not feel like the issue is in the county’s purview, so she further reached out to Stauber’s office and was told they’re working on it.

“The process has already been started. … I’m not sure what the federal government can do to force people to go to work,” Franzen said. “But I do want you to know that I took this up on my own without coming here because we have always said we were going to try to keep in our own lane.”

Koering responded he does feel the problem is in the county’s lane.

“I feel like when I’m hearing from seniors that are not getting their prescription drugs delivered and they’re calling me, I guess I always try to help any of my constituents any way that I possibly can,” Koering said before asking County Administrator Tim Houle to weigh in.

Houle told commissioners he spoke with the Brainerd postmaster and her assistant while also witnessing sorting taking place in the Baxter annex.

“There’s clearly nobody standing around twiddling their thumbs,” Houle said. “ … Their issue is short staff, so I think we want to go out of our way to make sure that the local staff realizes that we know they’re working as hard as they can work. … The labor market is particularly challenging right now.”

Houle said the model historically used by the U.S. Postal Service includes hiring people as contract employees at $19.54 per hour, without set hours or a set schedule until after a period of time, often years, they become full-time.

“I think that’s probably the problem, that the post office has not been as adaptable to the changing labor market conditions as they maybe should be,” Houle said. “It is a large federal bureaucracy that I suspect moves relatively slowly.”

Koering made a motion to approve the resolution, which stated the Crow Wing County Board “calls on our federal legislative delegation to immediately take up this issue and provide sufficient resources and more adaptable human resource practices that allow local post offices to respond to local labor market conditions.” After a second by Commissioner Steve Barrows, the board approved the resolution 3-1, with Commissioner Jon Lubke voting against. Franzen voted “present” after saying she did not want Stauber to think she was discounting his office’s efforts.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Lubke said he thought the message of the board’s concerns came across without the county involving itself in an issue over which it does not have purview.

“I do know they need help,” Lubke said. “I just have a heck of a time dealing with, when we don’t want people telling us how to run our county, I don’t really want to be that type of person out there telling the federal government how to run theirs.”

Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux said during the City Council meeting Tuesday he has also received several calls from people concerned about the mail. While he said he wasn’t sure what the city could do, he discussed the idea of drafting an official letter from the city to the post office to get more information and figure out if the city can help in any way. New council member Kara Terry, who serves as the Crow Wing County Community Services director, said the city could perhaps coordinate with the county on the issue, which Badeaux said would be much appreciated.

In Baxter, Mayor Darrel Olson said the city has tried to get a response from the local postmaster on why the Baxter Post Office was shut down late last year. The subject has come up during Baxter City Council meetings as residents continue to seek an answer.

“No one can figure out what sense that made,” Olson said of the Baxter post office closure, noting post offices in smaller communities than Baxter.

To date, Brad Chapulis, Baxter city administrator, said the city has put forth several inquiries but so far as not received any response.

City officials said they are aware of mail delivery issues but most residents have talked to them about the closure of the Baxter post office not about mail delays. Some people looking to pick up mail packages have actually gone to Baxter City Hall looking to get them, but that could be from confusion about being directed to the Baxter office when the postal service meant its own Baxter annex.

Multiple people reluctant to give their names have talked about going without mail delivery for days or even weeks. A Dispatch online poll, which went up about a week and a half ago, asked if people were experiencing delays in mail delivery from the United States Postal Service — 73% said yes with 27% responding no out of 680 responses as of the afternoon on Jan. 5.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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