Northwest suburban residents get candidate mailings days after elections
Dave Seiffert is an affable guy who enjoys a bit of irony now and then, but seeing his own political ad -- delivered to his house three days after his slate lost the election -- was not one of those moments.
"I don't know that it cost me the election, but it certainly couldn't have helped," said Seiffert, who finished fourth in a six-way race for three Palatine Township Elementary District 15 school board seats.
Some postal workers say Seiffert, who remains on the board as an appointee to a two-year seat, is the untimely victim of new sorting machines that recently went live at the Palatine Processing and Distribution Center on Northwest Highway.
And he's not the only one experiencing delivery woes.
Prospect Heights Mayor Dolores "Dolly" Vole, who lost her re-election bid, said two batches of campaign mailers were delivered late, arriving to homes on Election Day in one case and not until the following week in the other. Her opponent's were delivered on time.
"It's hard to believe that all of my mailings got caught in an equipment malfunction when all the other political mailings arrived in Prospect Heights," Vole said. "Why didn't they malfunction on everybody?"
Six-term Palatine District 5 Councilman Jack Wagner, who lost his race by 135 votes, said that when his campaign brochures still hadn't been delivered 10 days after they were scheduled to, he went to the Palatine center, which serves much of the Northwest suburbs, and searched for them in a backroom with the plant manager.
The brochures eventually were found, but multiple versions that should have been delivered days apart ended up in residents' mailboxes together, he said.
"I can't imagine people read them all, so it probably wasn't the best thing," Wagner said.
Before the election season went into full swing, Wagner's opponent, Kollin Kozlowski, started noticing his family's magazines arriving more than a week later than in the past. So the first-time candidate investigated how to best go about mailing his political ads.
After talking with a manager at the Palatine center, Kozlowski said he learned about the new flat sequencing system, or FSS, machines that were activated in mid-January.
He was told the machines, which automatically put large envelopes, catalogs and magazines into order for letter carriers, were operating in a way that could mean some mail gets left behind for days.
"When I heard that, I thought it was ridiculous," Kozlowski said.
The postal service, which has a policy to give election mail preferential treatment, worked with Kozlowski to bypass the distribution center and have the mail processed at the local Palatine post office on Colfax Street. His mailers were delivered on schedule.
Postal Service spokesman Tim Ratliff said in a couple cases, initial investigations showed there was a breakdown or miscommunication and the system didn't work properly. He said the agency is working to make corrections.
"It's frustrating for us and of course frustrating for the customer," Ratliff said. "Our goal is to always provide excellent service."
But Ratliff said concluding there's a correlation between the new FSS machines and delivery delays isn't accurate. However, he said there's bound to be an adjustment period when any new system is implemented.
The postal service has 102 FSS machines scheduled for deployment by summer, the first of which went live November 2007 in Virginia. The first of Palatine's four FSS machines started operating in mid-January. The Carol Stream distribution center is set to get one also.
Since the FSS machines are intended to reduce the amount of time letter carriers spend in the office sequencing mail, delivery routes are consolidated. Letter carriers, many of whom may be new to the position because declining revenue has led to nationwide cuts and reassignments, now spend more time on the street covering different and larger territories.
Ratliff said FSS machines can sort 212,500 pieces of flat mail per day to more than 125,000 delivery addresses. An estimated 480 mail routes are expected to be eliminated in the postal service's Great Lakes Area alone through FSS efficiencies.
But Eric Smith, executive vice president of the National Association of Letter Carriers local union, said the FSS machines haven't resulted in time savings, meaning letter carriers "have bigger work loads than they can handle." Delays are the result, he said.
Dave Baskin, vice president of the local Northwest Area Postal Workers union, said he's also heard the machines frequently break down and shred mail. And because of staffing cuts, fewer employees are there to catch and rectify problems early, he said.
Ratliff said the postal service needed to make changes because it lost $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2010 and has seen annual mail volume fall by more than 43 billion pieces in the past five years.
"Our employees are very dedicated and supportive, but it's still a transition for them," Ratliff said. "We have to respond to the new reality and improve our operational efficiencies, and the FSS machine does that."
Some customers would debate whether there's been improvement.
From Toys R Us brochures being delivered after the promoted sale ended to Harper College mailers getting to mailboxes after the advertised entrepreneurial event took place, complaints are mounting.
Inverness Village President Jack Tatooles said the last two village newsletters were delivered so late to the 60010 part of town that the postal service apologized to residents through a postcard.
"They alluded to some new equipment that wasn't up to speed," Tatooles said. "The process is a mystery to me."
Staff writer Deborah Donovan contributed to this report