There’s a new energy behind the U.S. Postal Service in Aspen and Snowmass Village, and sources inside and outside of the organization say it has a lot to do with the recent arrival of Aleicia Dickson.
Dickson is the newest postmaster for the two offices, having been appointed to the position on June 22. She arrived in mid-March after serving as postmaster for Vail.
The situation in both offices was considered a bit chaotic in the months prior to her arrival. Elizabeth Turner, the previous postmaster who was given the job in November 2017, was reassigned to other post offices in the Western Slope early in the year “in a learning and teaching capacity,” USPS communications officials in Denver said in February. A spokesperson declined to provide details about the departure.
The postal service then sent a Texas employee to run the local offices. Gary Amason was to serve as acting postmaster “for the immediate future,” the spokesperson said. That announcement came about one month before Dickson came to Aspen.
Amason wasn’t here long, and now Dickson is at the helm. The former U.S. Army sergeant has implemented several changes, and some of the public and private criticism over local operations has subsided, at least temporarily. (In 2018 and early this year, local residents and business managers contacted the Aspen Daily News or took to social media outlets sporadically to complain about not getting mail and package deliveries on some days as well as to vent about service that was occurring during late-evening hours.)
“I think Aleicia Dickson is the best postmaster we’ve had here in my career with the postal service,” said one Aspen employee who asked that his name not be used, as it might be considered a violation of policy. “She knows what she’s doing. She’s very clear on the regulations, she’s good at explaining them to the employees, and she’s very adaptive to our mountain community.”
Dickson, a native of Montana, said she loves her job.
She joined the USPS in March 2012 after serving in the Army for nearly five years. She enlisted in 2007 with the 659th Engineer Company of the Army Reserves, and shortly after completing basic training, her unit was called into action. She served in a rear detachment in Spokane, Wash., for the construction support unit. During her service, the unit was deployed to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once.
“I was kept back in Spokane to serve and ensure that the soldier members overseas had all the equipment they needed as well as training the new troops as they came in,” Dickson said.
Following her discharge, she applied to work at the USPS, the largest employer of U.S. veterans in the nation. Since her hiring, she has been a supervisor of customer service in two postal locations in Wyoming and also the officer in charge in Evanston, Wyo. From there, she was promoted to the Vail office.
“After college and the Army, once I began working with the postal service and its people, I just fell in love with what we do,” Dickson said. “I enjoy every piece of it, the community involvement, the employees, the structure. I truly enjoy what I do.”
She said she has heard about the local issues from employees and the community and is working hard to address them.
“When I first came in, of course, we had the regular concerns about low staffing and the housing shortage,” Dickson said. “But one of the biggest concerns was in Snowmass Village, where there were problems with the delivery of the mail due to street addressing. And I was told that over the course of the last holiday season the facility was just overrun with packaging. It was unkempt — not a clean facility, not an enjoyable place to be. There were long lines just to pick up a piece of mail.”
There have been issues in the Aspen office as well. Staffing and turnover continues to be a problem, and the number of packages flowing through the facility is said to be unreal. Nationwide and locally, USPS contracts to provide deliveries for online retailer Amazon have come under scrutiny as the postal service continues to suffer annual operating losses worth hundreds of millions.
Dickson said the increased business from USPS “drop shipment partners” — Amazon, FedEx, UPS and others — has changed the dynamics of postal operations. Here, as in other Western Slope resort communities, full-time residents and second homeowners have increasingly turned to Amazon and other online retailers because of greater product availability as well as the ability to purchase household items at a lower cost than the prices charged by local retail establishments.
“Aspen has as much volume as a large city in the Denver metro area, when it comes to our parcel volume. It’s just the nature of the beast when you’re located in the mountains,” she said.
Dickson said she embraces the challenges.
“It has led to some operational changes. Sometimes we can’t fit [all of the mail and packages] for a route into a vehicle. You have to send them out on a second run. The vehicles just aren’t adequately built to handle the volume on certain days. Some days we are running a little later than usual. It can be a hassle. My biggest concern when we do things like that is safety of the employees,” she said.
When local employees are overloaded, Dickson sometimes joins them in the field.
“There’s many times you will see my truck out on the streets of Aspen with the postmaster logo on the side, and I will be out delivering parcels myself. It’s just the nature of the beast. I will jump in a vehicle and put on a satchel and deliver mail just like the rest of them,” she said.
Dickson also spoke about how she has worked to solve some of the problems:
• She ordered dozens of new parcel lockers for both Aspen and Snowmass, which allows postal employees to move packages more quickly to customers instead of having to keep them on shelves when all the lockers are in use. The additional lockers also has resulted into shorter lines at the main desk.
• She had a 1,400-pound safe in Snowmass removed, which created space for more shelves.
• She received permission from USPS headquarters to streamline the hiring process, to a large extent, as the vetting process for potential federal employees historically takes a few months, given concerns about security and “the sanctity of the mail.” She said she is continually hiring, having placed more than 150 job postings since arriving in March.
• She also got the OK from headquarters to create five new career positions. Non-career positions are not as coveted by potential employees because they are subject to one-year contracts that are revisited annually depending on the need for that position.
Despite some progress with hiring, Dickson said she has several full-time, part-time and seasonal jobs to fill. Some of the local office’s recent hires have moved on because of the cost of living in the area. Applicants are invited to initiate the process online at usps.com/careers, where they can enter location information for the area where they would like to work.
Staffing needs are inherent to Colorado mountain communities, Dickson said.
“I can speak a little bit about the Western Slope. From my personal experience in Vail, they have the same issues that Aspen has, it’s just a smaller operation,” she said.
As mail and parcel volumes rise, Dickson and other postmasters in the region communicate to bring in employees from other offices that may not be as busy.
“There’s been a lot of moving around of employees and lending employees,” she said. “I’ve had employees out of Paonia, Craig, Basalt and Glenwood Springs, coming in and helping us out. If it happens to be a good week in Aspen, we’ll send somebody down to Glenwood Springs and vice versa. We’re in this together.”
Speaking to the issue of complaints, Dickson said she understands the frustration of local customers who can’t reach a postal worker by phone. The USPS doesn’t allow offices to have a voice-mail system, as it has been deemed inefficient.
“There’s not always someone available to answer the phone, and that’s unfortunate, but we have a program to get around that,” she said.
To air service concerns, customers are invited to go to the web link usps.com/help/contact-us.htm, where they can fill out a form. Dickson said through that system, issues are usually addressed in a few days, and it’s the fastest way for the public to get results.
“I have had positive feedback for the most part. But if there are delivery issues, and the customer doesn’t tell me about it, I can’t fix it,” she said.