A top Postal Service official in Baltimore yesterday defended a much-criticized trip to a Florida sports resort, insisting it was a valuable management exercise.
"Because it was in Florida, people tried to call it a junket. It wasn't like we climbed ropes and just ran around," said Richard Rudez, district manager for customer service. "It was valuable training that will help heighten our service to another level."
The four-day leadership sessions, which were attended by 85 VTC managers from the Postal Service's mid-Atlantic region, cost $137,000.
Officials of two postal unions raised questions about the trip because participants left town three days after service in the Baltimore region was rated the worst in the nation.
Richard Hughes, administrative vice president of a third union, the Mail Handlers, was on the trip. He defended the classes and physical training, which included climbing 30-foot poles and walking across rope ladders, saying they developed team work and built trust.
"We were trying to get everybody to work together to serve the customers better. It sounded like a good idea to me," Mr. Hughes said. "The philosophy was playing to win. You have to work together as a group to win, no matter what you do. In our case, it is to move the mail."
Others have questioned why the training couldn't have been in Maryland instead of the Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Resort in Haines City, Fla., about 60 miles south of Orlando.
Jesse Jacobs, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, said the 5th District Democrat was upset that the sessions were held in Florida, "when they have a training facility right here in (P Maryland. It is unfortunate that they were in Orlando when they should have been . . . addressing the mess here."
Mr. Rudez said he would still go on the trip if he had to make the decision again.
"It was an issue of timing. This trip had been in the works for a while, all the arrangements had been made, and we didn't know when the scores were going to be released," he said, referring to Baltimore's basement ranking in the recent survey.
"All attendees . . . moved a step forward in their careers and their professional lives. I think customers will see that we'll be giving them the level of service they are demanding," Mr. Rudez said.