Petitioners booted from post office
April 2, 2003
Two candidates collecting signatures at the post office for the Aspen City Council election were told to fold up their card table and leave the property Tuesday afternoon.
Bert Myrin and Tom Peirce were collecting signatures on the sidewalk in front of the post office when acting postmaster Howard Orona told them to pack it up. Except for voter registration, any soliciting or petitioning is not allowed on the grounds, according to the rules of the U.S. Postal Service.
“We just have our regulations,” Orona said. “I told them that, and I apologized because I knew they were not bothering people, but I have to do my job.”
The post office is known for being a place where it’s easy to run into local registered voters, Peirce said.
“It’s an easy place to go see people and get things done in one fell swoop,” he said. “This isn’t people voting for you, it’s just signatures from people who are willing to sign your petition to run for council.”
The pair left without protesting.
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Former Aspen postmasters have told petitioners that as long as they didn’t pester customers and didn’t “lobby to people,” they could sit to the side of the entrance doors, said current Councilman Terry Paulson, who is running for mayor this spring.
Petitioners have sat along planters and behind tables at the post office to support trolleys in Aspen, and both sides of the Entrance to Aspen debate. But Orona said the U.S. Postal Service must strive to be bipartisan.
“When people are petitioning there’s a weight there – some of our customers might be for something and some might be against, and that creates a little bit of a conflict,” he said. “We do allow voter registration on the grounds with the postmaster’s approval.”
Orona is filling in for Aspen postmaster Ivey Green, who is temporarily covering for a postmaster in Port Smith, Va. He said he’s not sure what took place in the past, but since every post office has the same regulations, he’s going to enforce the rules.
Al DeSarro, spokesman for the western region of the U.S. Postal Service in Denver, said the reason for the rule is “pretty obvious: The postal service is considered a place of business, and as such we need to allow the normal flow of customers, traffic and operations.”
The regulation is one DeSarro said has been challenged and upheld in the court system repeatedly.
“Such acts could very much impact the act of operating a post office, especially considering in many towns it’s the focal point of activity,” he said.
Other postmasters in Aspen may have been supportive of petitioners, but DeSarro said it could be a slippery slope.
“We’re all for free speech and stuff, but the law here is important because believe me, we’d be besieged with requests from petitioners if we were to allow this,” he said. “It’s a pretty standard rule.”
But Peirce notes that not enforcing that rule has almost become an Aspen tradition.
“In the past, the approach has been that as long as you’re just sitting there, and not harassing people, it was OK,” he said. “The post office has always been an easy place to go to see people.”
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]