Where, oh where, in the world has Katie James’ mail been going? That’s what the Hollins-area woman would like to know.
She and her husband, Bill, still are getting mail deliveries every day, “especially the junk mail,” James noted. But they’re not getting some bills.
She’s a research assistant in psychology and Bill James is a professional counselor. They have lived in the same house in the Summerdean community since 1986. Never before have they experienced problems receiving mail, Katie James said.
Those problems began in late September. Twice since then, Visa bills simply never arrived. On the first occasion, the Jameses wound up with a $25 late charge tacked onto their October bill because they never got September’s. Visa also tacked on more than $30 in interest charges.
Because they pay their bill in full every month, “I have never received a finance charge in my life and have been receiving bills for 35-plus years,” Katie James told me. She persuaded Visa to remove the late charges because of her good payment history.
On other occasions, the couple’s Anthem health insurance bills were missing. James knows that’s the case because they typically get two bills from Anthem, one for each of their grown children. More than once, only one has arrived.
The most recent lost bill was for the James’ subscription to The Roanoke Times. The couple pay quarterly and failed to notice when their December bill didn’t arrive.
Katie James realized that situation in mid-February, only after getting a call from the newspaper asking why she hadn’t paid either of the two bills sent to her. At that point, neither bill had arrived.
James paid that day over the phone using her credit card. The following week, the second bill showed up — but she still hasn’t seen the first.
Then there was a check sent in January to the Jameses by someone they know in Roanoke County. The check still hasn’t arrived.
James is not alone in her recent dissatisfaction with the mail service. Sporadically, I get calls from readers about the same subject.
After a colleague here in the newsroom overheard me talking about mail service on the phone, she recounted how her most recent check to Visa, mailed Jan. 19, didn’t post to her account until Feb. 16. It was due Jan. 28, so the credit card company hit her with a late fee, too.
James wondered if her problems are being caused by last year’s consolidation of Roanoke’s Rutherford Avenue processing center to Greensboro, North Carolina. I told her I’d ask some questions about that. But it wasn’t real easy.
Thursday morning, I called the main post office on Rutherford. I wanted to speak to the postmaster. But the call was answered by a machine, so I left a message. As of Friday afternoon, that call had not been returned.
Thursday afternoon, I called the Raleigh Court post office and asked how I could get hold of Roanoke Postmaster Ed Schaben. They gave me another number. It was answered by a machine, too. This time the message was, “This voicemail box is full and cannot accept any more messages.”
So I called the Raleigh Court post office again and explained the problem. Did they have another phone number for Schaben? They gave me a number to the Williamson Road annex, and I caught him there. I told him about Katie James’ problems.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to comment on that, to be honest with you,” Schaben said. He referred me to a guy in Pittsburgh named Tad Kelley. Kelley is the postal service spokesman for western Pennsylvania and the Appalachians. So I called him.
I left Kelley a long voicemail message and followed up with a detailed email. He responded Friday morning. He also asked for Katie James’ phone number, which I gave him. Postmaster Ed Schaben was on the phone to her that morning, which made James happy.
In four or five previous conversations with people at the post office, James said, she was told that nothing could be done. Schaben told her they could track mail that arrived late, if she saved her envelopes. But her chief problem is mail that doesn’t arrive at all.
Kelley told me that other than some delivery delays caused by snow in late January and early February, the postal service has not seen any recent increase in complaints about mail service in the Hollins area or the Roanoke Valley.
He also said the postal service logs complaints and had logged none from James.
It’s highly unlikely, he added, that last year’s consolidation has anything to do with James’ missing credit card bills. That’s because only mail sent from Roanoke goes through Greensboro, he added. Mail sent to Roanoke from another city comes directly here.
“We strongly advise postal customers to speak with their local postmaster regarding any concerns so he or she can work with them to rectify the situation. In doing so, it enables the postmaster to identify any patterns of inconsistency that he or she can immediately address,” Kelley said.
But that’s not necessarily easy, considering the effort I went through to get Schaben on the line.
Kelley said complaints also can be filed by calling 1-800-ASK-USPS or visiting www.usps.com.
“The information provided by the customer is logged and distributed to the office of concern to address the issue and make a response,” Kelley said.
James questions the value of that. Before she called me, she called the toll-free number. But she couldn’t understand the guy on the other end of the line because he had a thick accent.
“I think he was in India or something,” James told me.