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Cautious optimism that mail delivery will improve with Chicago postmaster’s ouster

“Chicago has a lot of great things going for it but sadly the post office isn’t one of them,” said one resident, who had documented her problems with mail delivery on her blog.

Mack Julion, president of Branch 11 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, speaks about the importance of the United States Postal Service during a press conference outside the USPS Chicago Headquarters, 433 W. Harrison St. last August.
Mack Julion, president of Branch 11 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, speaking at a news conference in August outside the Postal Service’s Chicago headquarters.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Pauline Scott took to her blog in December to document her struggles with leadership at the United States Postal Service’s Chicago district.

“Today marks 32 days without mail delivery at my home,” Scott said in her third post. “I checked the mail twice yesterday, and once today at 12:45. Nothing. Not even mail from yesterday.”

The blog — which had only two unrelated posts before then — would turn into a diary of events that expressed Scott’s frustration and ongoing fight with “the Goliath that is USPS” to improve service. In her eyes, a good start would be firing postmaster Wanda Prater.

And Scott, who lives in the Edgewater neighborhood, wasn’t alone in her calls for Prater to go.

For nearly a year, Prater — who was replaced earlier this month — had faced a bevy of calls from congressional leaders and aldermen to resign after an onslaught of complaints from residents about severe delays.

Prater was replaced in Chicago by Eddie Morgan Jr., an Air Force veteran with 22 years of Postal Service experience. He had been executive postmaster in Kansas City. Prater is now postmaster in Milwaukee.

Reporters and local residents gather outside the post office at 6559 S. Ashland Ave. in Englewood Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.
Englewood residents talked to reporters outside their post office, 6559 S. Ashland Ave., in February about poor mail service.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“It was 100% necessary to replace Wanda Prater and I just hope that this leads to some change,” Scott said. “She had a lot of time and a lot of power behind her. She could’ve been more proactive, but she only chose to be reactive during a time of COVID when people needed the post office the most.”

Scott hopes Morgan can make significant changes but isn’t betting on it.

“Chicago has a lot of great things going for it but sadly the post office isn’t one of them,” Scott said. “So for someone new to come in to create change it is going to take a lot of cleaning house and that is just something Chicago is not good at. I am not optimistic, but I am also not pessimistic about the change.”

Mack Julion, president of the Chicago branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said Morgan can expect a good working relationship as long as the cost-cutting stops.

“You will have a willing partner with us in making sure mail gets delivered on time or you will have a formidable opponent if he comes in trying to get more work done with less resources,” Julion said.

Prater’s departure will easily “boost morale” among his members and is a “step in the right direction” but more must be done, Julion added, noting that the Postal Service’s district manager, Randy Stines, worked in tandem with Prater.

“They both should be gone, and they might be using Prater as some sort of sacrificial lamb for some bigger issues but they both need to be gone,” Julion said.

“They have taken a cost-cutting approach to everything,” Julion added. “It wasn’t until people started getting fed up of waiting weeks for mail and the news stories started rolling out that it became a problem for them.”

Chicago’s Postal Service spokesman Tim Norman declined to comment on “personnel matters” or the accusations Julion levied against Prater and Stines. Prater and Stines didn’t respond to multiple attempts for comment.

“We are committed to continuous improvement of customer service in the Chicago area,” Norma said.

Julion said he hopes Morgan understands the situation will improve only with more staff and more training.

Prater’s departure came after nearly a year of complaints about mail delivery across the Chicago area. Auburn Gresham residents told the Sun-Times last summer they were waiting three weeks for mail, which put some residents at risk due to delays in receiving vital prescription medicine. The primary factor was Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s national cost-cutting efforts.

The problem got the attention of several congressional leaders, who began hosting virtual town hall meetings with constituents.

In February, South Side aldermen were being bombarded with complaints from residents who had not received mail for weeks.

Then a report from the Postal Service inspector general found delivery and customer service issues at four South Side post offices that included delayed mail, inaccurate reporting of mail conditions, improper scanning and unsecured delivery vehicles.

“There has been an undeniable, unacceptable and unprecedented breakdown in mail delivery over the past year, and unfortunately, my constituents have borne the brunt of it,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush said in a statement after Prater was removed.

“After a damning Inspector General investigation — and an equally damning lack of response from management to the investigation — I am encouraged that USPS has finally heeded my call for new leadership in Chicago.”