Three Kailua-Kona apartment buildings had their mail stopped, apparently without notice, shortly after ballots went out last week.
The post office stopped both incoming and outgoing mail at Hualalai elderly housing, Kamaaina Hale and Royal Kailuan Inn because of concerns about mail carriers’ safety after coronavirus infections surged at nearby University of the Nations Kona. The mail was to have been restarted Saturday, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman said.
Spokesman Duke Gonzales said Tuesday that the Kailua-Kona postmaster told him residents were contacted and informed before pickups and deliveries were halted, including telling them they could pick up their mail at the Kailua-Kona Post Office. A resident, a community representative and a building manager dispute that account of what happened.
“No, they were not informed. I check my mail every single day and I knew nothing until Oct. 11,” said Hualalai resident Rhonda Adams. “That pink letter, that was the very first I had heard. … There was no notice to any of us.”
The postal service put the pink fliers into residents’ mailboxes Saturday that were dated Tuesday, saying, “We apologize for the inconveniences you have experienced as a result of the temporary suspension of mail delivery to your building. We are finalizing a revised mail delivery procedure that will allow mail to resume soon.”
The flier went on to describe precautionary measures such as social distancing for residents to use when the postal carriers resume their work.
Adams, 74, said she called the local post office, the U.S. postmaster general, President Donald Trump, Gov. David Ige, Mayor Harry Kim, the media and a number of others.
“I have pages and pages of notes,” Adams said. “It was an issue and they should not have stopped any service during voter time. … I don’t need my name in lights. … I just want the post office to know that you really have to care for old folks. … Our country is relying on us being able to vote.”
Ballots were mailed Wednesday and slated to be in mailboxes countywide Friday and Saturday in the state’s mail-only general election. Gonzales said the mail carriers stopped deliveries at three buildings “midweek.”
The stoppage had nothing to do with the mailing of the ballots, he said.
“Absolutely not. … I think we are all dealing with unprecedented times,” he said. ”We’re working very closely with the elections office to deliver a successful election to Big Island residents. The bottom line is, we all want a successful election.”
Ironically, the Kailua-Kona post office notice was dated the same day as a press release from the postal service titled, “Postmaster General Champions USPS Employee Commitment to a Safe and Secure Election.”
“The more than 630,000 men and women of the U.S Postal Service are ready to fulfill on the sacred duty of delivering the nation’s Election Mail securely and timely,” Postmaster Louis DeJoy said in the press release. “The sanctity and security of the nation’s mail is a core value for all Postal Service employees, and that core value fully applies with Election Mail. Anyone who suggests that Postal Service employees are anything but fully dedicated to the mission of delivering the nation’s Election Mail knows little about the passion and determination of the people who make the Postal Service work, in every corner of the country, every day.”
Gonzales said the local decision was made to protect the safety of the carriers but service was quickly resumed. He noted the mail can stop temporarily for a number of emergencies and disasters, from fires and floods to a loose dog. The postal service has been trying to work during the pandemic, he said.
For example, at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo, site of another COVID-19 outbreak, the mail didn’t stop, but it was dropped off for staff to pick up outside the building and distribute, Gonzales said.
Laura Sousa, assistant manager at Hualalai, said she was concerned about a mail stoppage at the 95-unit apartment complex that houses seniors and disabled residents. They rely on the mail for medications as well as letters, she said.
“Mail is important; it’s supposed to be ongoing rain, sleet and snow,” she said.
Kelly Valenzuela, who described herself as a “community worker” who helps out her neighbors and ran for a seat in the state House, said she received a lot of calls from concerned residents of the three apartment complexes. She started asking questions, she said, to find out what was going on.
Adams, for her part, was ready to forgive.
“We all make mistakes. All of us do it, but they corrected it,” she said. “They should never have stopped. Whether it was my calls, everybody’s calls or they got their head right on their shoulders, but they made it right.”