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          Front Page




USPS Official Says He's a 'Trouble-Shooter'

By Jake Rigdon
Journal Staff Writer
    Tell a Rio Rancho resident that postal service fixes are on the way, and those words might fall on deaf ears.
    That's because residents, city officials and lawmakers for years have been calling for changes to ease long lines at the city's lone main post office and to speed up delivery times.
    But change now appears imminent. The biggest reason?
    Victor Benavides, officials say.
    Benavides has been the Albuquerque district manager for the United States Postal Service since last summer. His coverage area includes Rio Rancho.
    "I'm a trouble-shooter," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I feel like I can come in, review operations, figure out the concerns— and which concerns are real— and what we need to do about it."
    A number of changes are on the way in Rio Rancho.
    Most recent is the announcement that the U.S. Postal Service will open a new, full-service branch in the City Centre. The office will be located in the soon-to-be constructed annex building of the new City Hall. An exact opening date is not yet known.
    The main post office will be open longer on Saturdays, while mobile retail vans where you can buy stamps, envelopes and mail letters also will be cropping up.
    Those are just the most recent announcements.
    Smaller retail outlets in already established businesses are on the way. The city eventually will have its own postmaster, and postal operations in Rio Rancho will soon split from Albuquerque.
    Some of those changes were announced at a January town hall meeting held by Benavides and Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Benavides came away with a desire to make changes now.
    "I asked (the residents) during that meeting to be patient and to give me an opportunity to show them I mean what I said," Benavides said. "But I really got to thinking about all of it afterward. There were (retail outlets) and mobile retail vans that were available for us to use right now, so why wait?"
    The U.S. Postal Service serves 80,000 customers in the Rio Rancho area, postal officials say, and the population is expected to grow.
    Udall spokeswoman Marissa Padilla said public outcry about the postal problems has risen to a level Udall's office has never seen before.
    "Our sense is that we, and other congressional offices, have been pushing and pushing for better services on many fronts for so long that the USPS has finally realized that Udall and the problems will not go away," Padilla said in an e-mail interview.
    Benavides, the former postmaster of Aurora, Colo., said the first obstacle in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque was changing people's perception about the post office.
    "I needed to regain the community's trust," said Benavides, who started with the postal service in 1980 as a part-time clerk in Tucson, Ariz.
    But change comes slowly, even with new leadership. That's why any announcements have city officials believing they finally have an advocate with the U.S. Postal Service.
    "(Benavides) is a breath of fresh air," Mayor Kevin Jackson said. "I like a can-do person, and I believe he's one of them. Regardless of the negativity that's come out of the post office in the past, I believe he's willing and committed to see (service improve), and I'm very encouraged by that."
    Stay tuned, Benavides said: More changes are on the way.
    "There's no time to wait; the focus is right now," he said. "Rio Rancho has major— and legitimate— concerns."