ST. PETERSBURG — If you received a letter about your mail carrier's safety from the local postmaster recently and thought you were being told something was amiss with your home, you're not alone.
Postmaster Russ Racine, who wrote the page-long letter, would like to explain.
"A lot of people took this as a notice. Maybe I could have spelled it out a little clearer," said Racine.
Dated June, the letter went to about 160,000 single-family residences in St. Petersburg. A few hundred people who got it called the postmaster's office to complain or seek clarification.
"We need your help in keeping our employees as safe as possible," the letter began.
It asked homeowners to keep their property free of tripping hazards and overgrown grass, their steps well-maintained, to add a railing for four or more steps, restrain dogs, keep mailboxes outside of screened porches and raise the mailbox slot if it's near the foot of a door.
It ended by saying that "sometime in the next 60 days" homeowners may get a notice about a specific hazard. Once notified, the owner will have 30 days to correct the problem. If nothing is done, "mail delivery may be suspended," the letter warned.
Racine, who has held his post for a year and a half, said the letter was a revamped version of one the postmaster last sent out to residents in 2003 and had used for years before that.
At a time when the post office is facing massive budget cuts and the average age of letter carriers is growing older, the letter was meant to protect the workforce, Racine said.
It is also business as usual, he said, as the post office has a list of regulations that are typically brought to a homeowner's attention after a letter carrier reports a problem to a supervisor. Only in extreme cases of neglect is mail suspended, he said. Most people are not breaking rules.
"It has to be something where it's going to cause … a possible injury," Racine said.
And no, the postal police do not give citations for failure to comply with a safety request.
It turns out that St. Petersburg, where 70 percent of mail is delivered by a "park and loop" method in which the carrier parks and walks a route with a 35-pound bag of mail, leads the region in accidents, including "dog incidents" where a carrier falls while being chased by a protective pooch. Though it's a bigger city, Tampa, where 40 percent of mail is delivered on foot, has a much lower accident rate, Racine said.
Joe Henschen, executive vice president of the Pinellas Park-based National Association of Letter Carriers, said the letter was "poorly written."
"I don't think that's what his intention was," said Henschen, a bicycle letter carrier in the Old Northeast. "My brother-in-law even called me and asked, 'I'm keeping my lawn clean — what hazards could I have?' "
Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.