It was the kind of day at Santa Fe’s upscale Zocalo condominiums that gives new meaning to the term “going postal.”

A debit card landed in the wrong mailbox, misplaced by a postal carrier. The high school student who was expecting the card couldn’t process and pay for his online college applications.

The same student, Martin Soto, also lost an all-expense-paid trip to New York University because the time-sensitive travel documents mailed to him were delivered to the wrong address, said his mother, Meriam Jawhar.

Even in a high-tech world, where email long ago displaced the art of writing letters, the U.S. Postal Service can still be a critical part of people’s daily lives. It’s easy to forget that as you pay the cable company or the Internal Revenue Service with a few key strokes from your computer.

Numerous residents of the Zocalo condominiums say they would like to forget the Postal Service altogether. In their case, it’s delivering more panic than packages.

“Several years ago, I had a $1,400 check that sat in someone’s mailbox for eight or nine months. Fortunately, I was still able to cash it,” resident Alma Cassel said in recounting delivery errors.

Another member of her family waited three months for a passport, unaware that it had been delivered to the wrong box.

The Zocalo complex has 191 units. More than half of them are second homes or investment properties, meaning lots of residents live in other cities for part of the year.

That circumstance makes a mail carrier’s accuracy all the more important. Bills, college applications and immigration papers that a carrier deposits in the wrong box can go undetected for months.

Yvette Tapp said a check for just under $1,000 was issued to her in May 2013, but it never reached her mailbox. She recently received notice that the money would be turned over to the state government as unclaimed property.

As for Jawhar, her problems with mail delivery are especially burdensome. She has a brain injury and worries about her memory failing. She says it’s hard enough to keep track of her schedule and bills without the added worry of lost mail, a regular occurrence for eight years.

Her anxiety has worsened in the last several weeks because of a series of botched deliveries, as when a mail carrier placed the renewal policy for her car insurance in the wrong box.

Jawhar said her coverage was canceled because she didn’t pay the bill, never having received it. The insurance company later reinstated her policy, but her rates spiked by about $200 every six months because of the missed payment.

“It’s imposition after imposition,” she said.

Jawhar, an advocate for disabled people, also works as a personal assistant. Under the company’s payroll system, her checks were sent to her home, but the last one didn’t arrive in the mail.

Her distrust of the Postal Service has reached the point where she had her latest check routed to another address. Picking it up will be an inconvenience, but at least she will know where her check is, she said.

Jawhar has spent the summer documenting the high error rate in postal deliveries. She says at least 24 pieces of her mail were misplaced by carriers.

Her son’s debit card, plus Jawhar’s bills for auto insurance and health insurance, did not reach her home until Aug. 13, more than a month after they were postmarked.

How did mail delivery get this bad?

Mike Flores, operations manager of Postal Service in this region, said in an interview that he knew Jawhar had been frustrated by delivery problems. But, he said, he did not realize the trouble extended beyond her.

Jawhar says otherwise. Flores, various postmasters, the Office of the Inspector General and even members of Congress from New Mexico have been made aware of the problem and how widespread it is, she said.

When it comes to mail delivery, the condo residents agree with Flores on one point only.

He says the Postal Service has a first-rate carrier working the complex. His name is Buzz Nichols, and residents think highly of him. One called him a problem solver, skilled in fixing messes left by other carriers.

Jawhar agreed.

“Buzz Nichols knows 90 percent of the people on his route personally, and that’s out of 940 addresses,” she said.

But when he’s off or sick, mail is routinely misfiled, Zocalo residents say.

Flores acknowledges delivery failings because of reliance on backup carriers, not just at the complex, but everywhere.

The problem, he said, is that the Postal Service has to hire non-career carriers to help fill gaps in staffing. Mail is delivered six days a week, but most carriers don’t work every day, he said.

Carriers hired to help cover shifts make $13 to $15 an hour, but they’re not going to take the job if it’s only one or two days a week, Flores said.

So the inexperienced carriers may help cover four or five different routes in a week. This may slow employee turnover because they get more hours and more pay.

But the public gets less-reliable carriers. The fallout is obvious at Zocalo. People expecting important documents in the mail are less likely to receive them on time.

Flores wants carriers who are letter perfect. He says he gains nothing but headaches and angry customers when mistakes are made. He has promised more careful attention to deliveries at the Zocalo complex.

Most of us know the Postal Service is less relevant than it used to be. Worse, it’s not profitable.

It lost $2 billion from April to June and another $1.9 billion from January to March.

Carriers as able as Buzz Nichols will be harder to find — and probably impossible to retain — in this downward spiral.

Given its abundance of errors at Zocalo and other places, the Postal Service might reconsider the motto it had set in stone: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Swift coverage is certainly possible. After all, coyotes could be trained as watchdogs.

But Jawhar and her neighbors say speed doesn’t count for much when mail ends up in the wrong box, important documents never arrive and the bills aren’t paid.

Ringside Seat is a column about New Mexico’s people, politics and news. Look for it in Monday’s print edition. Follow the Ringside Seat blog at www.santafenewmexican.com. Contact Milan Simonich at 986-3080 or msimonich@sfnewmexican.com.

(15) comments

Russelltsv

Is it a job requirement to be extremely overweight with the ability to eat breakfast burritos ALL day while working the counter?

Russelltsv

Greasy stamps delivered to me by burrito eating employees who could use a little exercise during break time in stead of stuffing mouths with 7/11 food from the "kitchen".

Patricio R. Downs

This part of the country is notorious for postal problems. I have a devil of a time getting people to understand that if you want something to get to me, you can't mail it to my physical address. (Incidentally, I live in an area that is purported to be served by mail service, but somehow never seems to deliver anything more than occasional junk mail.)

It's often better to simply get a post office box. Yes, it costs more. Yes, you have to visit the post office to get your mail. But in 30+ years of living here, I rarely ever get mail misplaced (unless some ignoramus decides to put my physical address before "PO Box XXXX" - and even then, it's usually only delayed by a couple of days).

Julie Bain

The staff at the Glorieta post office is excellent. They will deliver things to us even if people use our street address and not our PO Box. One time they even opened early on Saturday morning to get me an important package when they saw me waiting outside. They know everyone's name and will take time to chat. I never see them doing personal business. I can even ride my horses to the post office and hitch them out front.

Maybe the post office should downsize - have more offices with fewer customers each - and some of the issues would be solved.

Thomas Franks

I obtained an UPS box because the service at our condo is also so terrible. Twice I lost opera tickets which were sent to other neighbors by mistake. Fortunately they were honest and delivered them to me or I'd have lost almost $1000 in tickets.

Peter Romero

Be happy you have a post 2 post offices in Santa Fe. In Pojoaque we don't even have a US post office, I have to come to Santa Fe or Espanola to conduct any official postal transactions.

I think I only get mail deliverd 3 days a week.

Steve Salazar

I have found that the box rent clerk at the Coronado PO is one of the very few who provide customer service. All the rest are jut getting paid for doing nothing.

melvin buchwald

I live a few blocks north of the plaza and I get excellent mail service. I think that web access, somehow, selects for negative comments.

Amy Moya Munoz

Mike Flores needs to look into the main post office and the delivery to boxes. I have gotten mail 6 weeks after the postdate and many times others' mail that is far removed from my box number. Recently a package and a 2 day delivery letter were held in one case for a month and in another for 6 days. There are at least two clerks who are rude and spend time talking to girlfriends, filling out personal insurance forms etc.
The clerks' supervisor is also a trip--blaming the customers who come in and say they didnt get the mail. In every case, I have observed, this supervisor tells the customer it is their fault! What great customer service skills!

Steve Salazar

The Postal Service does not HAVE to hire non career carriers, they CHOOSE to do so. It is a union busting tool, plain and simple.

The reporter should ask about all the PERKS that are given to these postal managers as they sit in their temporary assignments, making decisions that ruin postal service in our city. They will move on soon enough, to be replaced to even worse managers.

Pat Shackleford

"Swift coverage is certainly possible. After all, coyotes could be trained as watchdogs."

"coverage"? "watchdogs"? You're really stretching, for a punchline that doesn't get delivered. The residents quoted in this article weren't complaining of mail box break-ins or thievery. Are the trained watchdogs supposed to look over the carrier's shoulder and make sure mail goes in the correct box? Too cute by half, or less.

Regarding the "not profitable" fiscal condition of the United States Postal Service; if corporate-controlled members of congress hadn't enacted a ridiculous requirement of USPS to pay for employee benefits 75 years in advance (an almost impossible task NOT required of other businesses) it's cash crisis would not be a conservative talking-point used to bash government employees that serve the public, and justify calls for "privatization" which would create corporate profits and raise costs on citizens who still need and value the USPS. Perhaps you'll explore that issue in another column, thank you.

J M

We have cluster boxes also and inside we wrote our names in big, dark, bold letters, just in-case.

Rod Oldehoeft

Mail to our address, "abc", is regularly delivered to "acb", and vice versa. Dyslexic mail people? We have part-time residents too, which greatly exacerbates delivery problems. This has never been a problem in other places where I have lived.

I want to sympathize with USPS, which gets no tax money but is still micro-managed by Congress, but the customers need to see better service.

Rick Dumiak

I always try to get everything sent by FedEx or UPS because the US Postal service in my neighborhood is horrible. I constantly get the wrong mail in my box and it takes forever for the mail to arrive. We have cluster boxes so its a game as to whose mail goes into whose box. I have all of my bills emailed because I was always getting invoices after their past due date. Im sure my speaking out will only make it worse....

punkster

Same problem in our "village." Regular postmaster is sent on "other jobs" while the locals suffer with not getting theirs or getting other peoples mail. I've had mail for the priest, credit cards and statements, etc. I put them back in, and many of us know each other and call and say "got your mail." Others do not. Every day is a new adventure, checking your bank account or credit card bill..

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