The phrase “the check is in the mail” has become a worn out joke, a sarcastic comment usually made when a person has no intention of ever paying off a certain debt.
So, when Apex business owner Tom Colhoun had two lawyers involved in separate transactions tell him that long overdue checks were in the mail, he wasn’t amused. In fact, he was downright mad.
As it turns out, Colhoun’s anger was misplaced.
Colhoun recently received those checks, dated from October, during a recent trip to the Apex Post Office.
The bemused Colhoun also received a litany of bills, publications and notifications that stretched over a four month period.
“I found a notice in my box about a parcel pick up waiting for me,” said Colhoun, owner of Colhoun Real Estate on Salem Street. “When I went to the counter they handed me a box full of old mail. I couldn’t believe it. What made it worse is that half the mail wasn’t mine. It belonged to somebody else. My box is 322 and they were giving me mail from 332. Now I understand what people mean when they say somebody has gone postal.”
As Colhoun began sorting through the mail he found an unpaid bill that had nearly cost him his life insurance.
“I never received the bill or any notifications,” said Colhoun. “I had to plead my case to the Insurance Commission because the insurance company was ready to terminate my policy after just one missed payment. I kept telling them I never received anything and they kept telling me they mailed it. There it was in the box with all the other stuff.”
The Apex Planning Board member felt a mix of anger and embarrassment when he found the late checks.
“Here I was arguing with these lawyers and accusing them of not sending me the checks,” said Colhoun. “I eventually drove to their offices in Winston-Salem and Raleigh and picked up different checks from them. The whole thing is just crazy.”
It’s also expensive. When considering the cost of late fees, price of gas and hours spent trying to correct problems caused by the late mail, Colhoun estimates he has spent a few hundred dollars.
He spoke to Apex Postmaster Tim Drees about the situation and wasn’t satisfied with the apology.
“He listened to me, looked at the box, shook his head and said, ‘I’m sorry,’” said Colhoun. “That was pretty much it. So, now what? Who do I complain to about this? Who is accountable? If the postmaster isn’t going to do anything do I need to talk to Obama?”
Post Office spokesperson Carl Walton said the problem arose when a substitute carrier simply misplaced the mail.
“The customer is part of a cluster box, the kind of grouped boxes you might see at an apartment complex,” said Walton. “A substitute carrier placed the mail in the wrong box.”
Walton said he talked with Drees and learned that procedures will be put in place to prevent a repeat of the problem.
“We’re not making any excuses,” said Walton. “It was just an honest mistake. Everybody deserves to receive their mail on time and we are taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Colhoun isn’t optimistic that mail service will improve any time soon.
“They are having a lot of issues,” said Colhoun. “They are very inefficient. A few years ago, you knew the mail carriers in town. Now, with Apex having more than 40,000 residents, things are a lot different and the post office can’t handle it.
“What I really want to know more than anything else is where was all my mail sitting for four months? How didn’t anybody see it? That is the one thing I really can’t understand.”