(Left to Right) Kent Smith, Jimmy Bunn, Walter Stone of the City of Huntsville
“I thought,” says Kent Smith, “my handwriting was bad before I started here.”
Smith, the mail room and supply clerk for the City of Huntsville, and his assistant Walter Stone are in charge of dividing, delivering and detecting when it comes to the immense volume of mail sent to and from the City.
And, yes, there’s no shortage of difficult deciphering of addresses that goes along with it, what with the lost art of elegant penmanship.
In a world of electronic mail and instant communication, it might seem good ol’ snail mail is something of a lost art itself. But not with a complex piece of machinery like the City of Huntsville.
Each day, Smith and Stone sort through three or four of those foot-deep plastic U.S. Postal Service crates of incoming mail.
Each piece is sorted and placed in the appropriate mail slot for the City’s nearly two-dozen departments. As they do so, they’re remaining vigilant. As Stone notes, “we’re the first line of defense” against dangerous packages. They’re both trained in detection against suspicious deliveries.
“I shut this building down one time,” Smith says. “I had a package that was very suspicious. Turns out, somebody had just packed something innocently but incorrectly and awkwardly.”
Paper is still popular
Each morning, having already checked weather forecasts and traffic reports – the “neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night” applies to him, too — Stone sets out on a 38-mile route that connects all the City of Huntsville’s buildings. He makes three dozen stops and it takes him nearly three hours. Then the mail is distributed throughout the eight-story City Hall. All told, it’s a 46-stop mail route.
As important as the incoming and outgoing mail is the interoffice mail. A government can churn out paperwork like Hershey’s churns out chocolate.
“We still do a lot of mail. The volume over the past few years has gone down because of e-mail, but the most important aspect of our mail route is to get the interoffice mail delivered,” Smith says. “Meanwhile, first class is still coming in. It could be a check coming in. Regardless, it’s important it gets treated with respect.”
Who’s on first?
Smith and Stone are able to assume each other’s roles, but Smith, after an early-morning pickup at the post office, typically minds the store as Stone runs the route. It’s literally minding the store, as he’s also in charge of ordering supplies for employees. Pens, paper clips, adhesive tape and legal pads don’t just magically appear. First, they are funneled through Smith’s supply room in the basement of City Hall. (Is every mail room in every major company in the basement, or does it just seem that way?)
The overall supervisor for the subterranean operation is Jimmy Bunn, the mail, supply and print shop supervisor.
“I’ve got an easy job because I’ve got good employees,” Bunn says. “They do what they’re supposed to do, and they do it well.”
Smith, 66 this month, has been with the City of Huntsville almost 28 years. He previously worked as a hair stylist and at Chambers Bottling Company.
Since he was 14, he has been singing in a family gospel group – you can find The Kent Smith Family on YouTube – that now has encompassed four generations and tours across the region singing at churches. (“Amazing Grace” is his favorite hymn, with “In The Garden” a close second.)
Stone, 62, a life-long Huntsvillian, has been with the City for 11 years, having worked previously in the electronics industry, most recently at Adtran. He’s an avid shopper at yard sales, which leads to a lot of interoffice teasing.
And, he says, “I don’t sing. I’m like Henry Ford said. If I can’t, I know somebody who does.”
Service with a smile
The mail team’s cumulative years of experience also brings a depth of institutional knowledge on the wide variety of functions occurring daily in City Hall.
For city employees, this makes the “mail guys” an invaluable part of the municipal team. They understand when a rush job is needed, will hunt down a lost package or redirect an incorrectly addressed letter. They courier, retrieve and rush, and always do so with a smile. You can’t do that with e-mail.