July 6 -- To the Editor:

At the Portsmouth City Council’s June 3, 2019 meeting, City Councilor Nancy Pearson characterized as “a piece of propaganda” a flyer that had been circulated by the grass roots citizens activist group RevisitMcIntyre, and she averred that that flyer was riddled with misinformation. She indignantly takes exception to the notion that she and the rest of the members of the City Council had anything to do with the upcoming departure of the post office from the McIntyre Building premises, inconveniencing thousands of Portsmouth residents and business owners in the process.

I’m afraid it’s Ms. Pearson herself whose remarks are riddled with misinformation and inaccuracies. I will try to be kind and will not say that she is deliberately disseminating propaganda, but at the very least she is guilty of perpetuating propaganda that has been generated and disseminated by others.

Fault for the post office’s premature departure from the McIntyre Building does, indeed, fall squarely on the heads of the members of the City Council and Deputy City Manager Nancy Colbert Puff. The post office is closing its downtown branch on Aug. 31, 2019 and is moving to its Heritage Avenue facility, four miles away. Contrary to Ms. Pearson’s assertions, it is not leaving because its lease with the General Services Administration is expiring. It is not leaving because it is otherwise being ousted by the GSA. It is not leaving because it wants to. Rather, it is leaving because the City Council and the city administration left it with no choice but to do so.

I have personally spoken to Mr. Patrick Sclafani, a member of the General Services Administration’s Boston office, who is one of the officials having immediate supervisory authority over the McIntyre Building and, more specifically, over the tenant leases therein, and he has told me explicitly that the GSA had nothing to do with the post office’s early exodus. I asked him directly whether there was any truth to the notion that the post office was unwelcome to stay in the McIntyre Building any longer or that the GSA is forcing it to leave, and his unequivocal reply was: “Not at all.” He pointed out that although the U.S. Postal Service performs many quasi-governmental functions, it is technically not part of the federal government but rather is a financially independent business entity, and consequently it makes its own business decisions. He told me that the post office could have had a sixty-day extension of its lease merely for the asking, and if it had asked for a more long-term arrangement the GSA would, at the very least, have seriously considered its request. However, the post office simply never approached the GSA with such a request or raised that possibility.

In one respect Mr. Sclafani was mistaken, for it would be doing an end run around the truth to say that the post office is leaving the McIntyre Building premises as the result of an independent business decision or that it is doing so of its own volition. Rather, it has been forced out by the City Council and the city administration, with an assist from the city’s so-called “public-private partner,” the Redgate/Kane Company. I personally attended a public informational meeting which was conducted on September 19, 2018 by Mr. David Rouse, a real estate specialist with the U.S. Postal Service, and at that meeting Mr. Rouse stated unequivocally, in unmistakable terms, that the post office did not want to leave the McIntyre Building but that it had been ordered to do so by both the city and the developer. There was never any mention by him of any pressure by the GSA to leave. Mr. Rouse made the common sense observation that it would be economically illogical for the post office to want to leave the McIntyre Building, for that site was perfectly suitable for its operations, and the expense of moving them from one location to another would be exorbitant.

All of this should surely ring a bell with Ms. Pearson, for she was present at that meeting, too. Not only did I see her there myself, but I even conversed with her briefly at that time. In light of her presence there, and in light of her having seen and heard the same things that I did, I find it difficult to understand how she can say that the city had nothing to do with the post office’s departure and that it is leaving solely because its lease with the GSA is running out.

And, of course, as a result of the skillful investigative reporting of Herald reporter Jeff McMenemy, we now know that the post office approached the city as early as February 2018 with a request that it be permitted to remain on the McIntyre Building site, but that its request was rebuffed. (“Return to sender?”, Portsmouth Herald, 6/24/19, p. 1A.)

Following the September 19, 2018 meeting, the city’s order to vacate the premises was never explicitly rescinded, leaving the post office dangling. Having been left in limbo, it did what any other intelligent business entity would do in the same circumstances: it made other plans.

In sum, the post office’s untimely departure from the downtown area is the direct result of mismanagement by Deputy Manager Puff, the City Council, and particularly Councilor Chris Dwyer and the members of the so-called McIntyre subcommittee, of which Ms. Dwyer is the chairwoman. Whenever I hear our city officials chant the party line that the post office is leaving because its lease with the GSA is running out and that the city did not cause its departure, I begin to understand why the ancient Greek figure Diogenes is said to have carried a lantern in the daytime, looking for an honest man.

Duncan J. MacCallum