‘This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard’
Editor’s note: This ‘Pokin Around’ column by Steve Pokin is reprinted with permission from the Springfield News-Leader. The U.S. Postal Service continues to seek an 8,500-square-foot parcel of land where the proposed new Zanoni post office can be located. For more information or to suggest land for USPS consideration, contact USPS real estate specialist Vee Spikes at 309-664-4627 or firstname.lastname@example.org. before the Feb. 8 deadline.
It would appear the United States Postal Service has so much money that it can afford to flush some down the toilet, or — in this case — burn it in a “self-incinerating toilet.” The USPS has proposed spending at least $273,000 to establish a new post office in the sparsely populated area of Zanoni in rural Ozark County, some 95 miles southeast of Springfield.
As proposed, the new post office would be a pre-fabricated building without running water.
Therefore, there would be a need for a self-contained waterless incinerating toilet.
Press a button and — poof! — your waste is transformed to ash.
But before you get as excited as I am about this, this poop-incinerator would not be available to the public. Employees only.
What’s strange here is that the folks who live in the area are not rejoicing about a possible new post office. No one is singing hosannas to the USPS.
In fact, people think it’s a really stupid idea.
“It is a total waste of money,” says John Turner, Ozark County’s presiding commissioner “You’ve heard of the Bridge to Nowhere? This is the Post Office for No One.”
Turner says he has met with USPS representatives. He tells me that he has informed them the post office is not needed.
It would be far better, he says, to add a few Saturday hours to the post office in Gainesville, 10 miles away.
Still, they persist.
According to Turner, it is a foregone conclusion there will be a new post of office in Zanoni, which these days has more cattle than people.
“They will go through with it, and over four years they will spend $500,000 to $600,000 and sell about $1,000 in stamps and then close it,” he tells me.
“Nobody wants it. There is no community there. There is nothing there.”
Well, that’s not quite true.
A dispute over $3,000
There is a roadside sign there. It says “Zanoni” and is planted across the two lanes of Highway 181 from the most recent post office.
It is a small building that has not operated since February 2016. In 2011 it was marked for closure but hung on for five years.
The USPS did not actually “close” the Zanoni post office. Instead, operations ceased under an “emergency suspension.”
Paul Rose owns the land where the shuttered post office sits. He also owns the post office building.
He tells me the USPS wants to put a new building on his land — not far from the shuttered building.
The “emergency suspension” of 2016, he says, was the end result of a $3,000 dispute between him and the USPS.
The postal service wanted him to make repairs on the existing building, constructed in 1970.
The repairs did not involve handicap accessibility.
“It was just an old building. It was once an old country store. I was not willing to spend the money,” he says.
Especially, he says, since it appeared the post office was destined for closure.
Rose explained to me how his lease works with the USPS.
He agrees to rent to the USPS for a full five years. The USPS, on the other hand, can break the lease at any time without penalty.
I tell him it sounds like a lousy deal for him.
“It’s the federal government,” he says.
He would not tell me how much the USPS paid to lease his building.
So, here we are, two years later. The new post office would be open two hours on weekdays and four hours on Saturdays. One part-time employee would work there..
I ask Rose, who would be the beneficiary of this new lease, what he thinks of a new post office in Zanoni.
“It is not needed,” he says. “I never dreamed it would cost that much money.”
Another reason it’s not needed, he says, is because everyone now gets their mail through the post office in Gainesville, population 773, the county seat.
The Gainesville post office is 10 miles from where the new Zanoni post office would be.
Since 2016, Rose says, the few people who used the Zanoni post office have moved on.
Rose says his very own mail box — which would be a stone’s throw from the new Zanoni post office — would be served by postal workers from Gainesville.
No details for you
For answers, I was directed to Stacy St. John, a USPS spokeswoman in Kansas City. She asked me to put my questions in writing. I did. I sent her 15.
She ignored just about all of them and sent me this email: “Based on unaddressed safety concerns at the previous postal location in Zanoni, MO, the Postal Service is seeking alternate quarters for a new retail location. A public comment period commenced after a community contact meeting in December 2017 and will end on February 8, 2018. The public comment period is still on-going so we are unable to provide any details on the community’s input.”
Years ago, I learned a basic truth about journalism: It is far easier for a public information officer to give short shrift to a reporter than a United States senator.
According to Sarah Feldman, press secretary for Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill: “This is a perfect example of why Claire has continually fought for more local input into postal issues. We need to make sure we’re making smart decisions about how and when to open and close postal facilities and we can’t do that unless we’ve done everything possible to talk to the individuals most affected.”
Katie Boyd is communications director for Republican Sen. Roy Blunt.
“Sen. Blunt has advocated for more local input on decisions made by the post office, and our office has reached out to them for additional information,” she says.
Maggie Starks works for Congressman Jason T. Smith, a Republican who represents the area.
“Rep. Smith and his office have been in contact with the local representatives and town folks of Zanoni and will fully support whichever decision the folks of Zanoni ultimately make,” she told me via email.
Several USPS representatives came to Ozark County Jan. 8 to discuss the possibility of a new post office.
Fortunately, there was a reporter there. The meeting was covered by Sue Ann Jones, with the Ozark County Times, based in Gainesville.
In her story, she states four people from the community attended.
They listened to Vee Spikes, a USPS real estate specialist who drove to Ozark County from Bloomington, Illinois.
Spikes said the new, modular post office would have 500 square feet and would be retail only. It would be a place to buy stamps, accept packages and rent mailboxes.
The mailboxes would be accessible 24/7.
According to Jones’ story, Gainesville Postmaster Jeff Elliott was at the meeting. He said the former post office had an annual revenue of $500 to $600 a year in stamp sales.
He also said the Gainesville post office has taken over the delivery of mail to the 40 postal patrons with Zanoni addresses.
At the meeting, Spikes tried to explain the rationale for a new Zanoni post office.
“The importance of a post office in an area is critical. If the post office isn’t there, the town dies. The importance of having a post office is whether your community will exist another 10 to 15 years.”
‘Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of’
It’s too late, Commissioner Turner tells me. Zanoni has already passed away. It’s gone.
A few miles down the road, Becky Mathews privately owns what was once the hub of Zanoni, a community founded in the mid-1800s when a water mill was built.
The mill has not served that purpose in years. It and the attached building can now be rented for wedding receptions.
Next to the mill is the long-vacant A.P. Morrison general store, which once housed the post office. This was prior to the small building on Rose’s property. Morrison was named Zanoni postmaster in 1931.
For more on Zanoni’s history go to the Ozarks Alive! blog written by Kaitlyn McConnell, of Springfield. Her story was posted Jan. 21.
I ask Mathews what she thinks of a possible brand-spanking-new Zanoni post office.
“It is just silly for the government to waste the money,” she says. “It’s a stupid idea.”
According to the Ozark County Times, Spikes, the USPS representative, also said the following at the Jan. 8 meeting: “Yes, it’s an expensive project. But we’re assuming this responsibility. We’re looking to invest in the Zanoni community. ... If the community doesn’t want the post office,” he added, residents can notify the county commissioners.
Otherwise, Spikes said, he expects the new facility to open this summer.
But is the USPS really listening? asks Presiding Commissioner Turner.
The community does not want the post office, he says.
Turner tells me about 25 people have voiced their opinion to him.
One told him a new post office in Zanoni would make it more convenient to buy stamps.
The others have made it clear to him: “‘This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life.’”
These are the views of News-Leader columnist Steve Pokin, who has been at the paper six years, and over his career has covered everything from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 836-1253, spokin@gannett. com, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 N. Boonville, Springfield, MO 65806.