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New postmaster hopes to cut costs, energy consumption

Thu., July 10, 2008

Karen K. Fairlee, sworn in last month as Spokane’s 27th postmaster, wants to continue the city’s reputation for efficient postal service, but also find ways to cut costs and reduce energy consumption.

Spokane for the past two years was ranked as the top postal district of its size throughout the U.S.

Its carriers deliver about 750,000 cards and letters each year, and that does not count larger pieces of mail such as magazines and larger advertising elements.

Fairlee wants her carrier routes analyzed to eliminate lefthand turns to save on fuel. She’s also pursuing new cooperative arrangements with private carriers such as UPS or DHL to provide home delivery for some of their shipments. “We take it the last mile for them,” Fairlee said.

In an age of instant electronic communication, the old-fashioned, handwritten letter may be on the wane, but people are always happy to receive a thank you, an invitation or other hand-written communication, she said.

“It’s a personalized message,” Fairlee said. “You know whoever sent it took time.”

Fairlee said the job of collecting, sorting and delivering mail “is not always easy,” and she wants to continue working with employees on their concerns. Another issue, she said, is working with law enforcement to protect senior citizens and others from predatory schemes.

Fairlee started her postal career as a clerk in Casper, Wyo., in 1982, and early on considered the possibility of rising through management ranks to become a postmaster. “That was my goal when I hired on,” she said.

She carried letters in Colorado Springs for 13 years prior to taking her first management job. She moved to West Richland to be closer to her family in Eastern Washington and came to Spokane in 2005.

She was promoted to Spokane Valley branch manager. To become postmaster, Fairlee competed in a national search. She is the first woman postmaster in Spokane, although more than half of all postmasters in the country are women.

Fairlee replaces retired Postmaster Edward Schierbel. “I am confident Karen is the person to continue to lead this post office,” Schierbel said during her installation ceremony on June 27 in an ornate court room on the third floor of Spokane’s historic post office at Riverside Avenue and Lincoln Street downtown.

Schierbel noted that the Spokane post office has annual revenue of $65 million. The advertising and printing industries that rely on the postal service for deliveries amounts to $1 billion a year in the area economy, he said.

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