FARMINGTON — If convicted on charges that he has allowed weeds to grow outside the U.S. Post Office on 20th Street, Postmaster Steve Begay could face a maximum $500 fine and 90 days in jail.
On Wednesday, Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts stood on the sidewalk outside the post office in front of scattered day-old cut weeds and held his hand out just below his waist.
"These weeds were this high yesterday," he said. "And then they don't even pick up the clippings."
Walking down the building's sidewalk, past a grocery bag stuck in a bush, he concluded, "It's a mess out here."
On Tuesday, the Farmington Police Department issued Begay a petty misdemeanor criminal citation, which will require him to appear in municipal court. According to the city's legal department, the $500 fine and 90 days in jail are the maximum penalties for a conviction.
When reached by phone on Wednesday, Begay referred questions to a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman but efforts to reach her were unsuccessful.
Begay did ask, "Is (Roberts) willing to send some city workers to help me over here?"
As Roberts walked down the sidewalk along 20th Street, he pointed at the yellow cheat grass poking through the post office's gravel bank, bushes collecting trash and the caved-in glass of nearly every light box on the grounds.
"Here's a broken glass," he said, looking down on a jagged shard. Next to the light were two sun-faded traffic cones. "This is unacceptable. It's a danger."
Begay's citation lists the unkempt weeds outside the post office as the violation, but Roberts said the building has many other qualities that demonstrate "a total lack of respect."
Paint on a grey awning outside the post office is beginning to peel. Yellow stucco walls beneath a few of the building's windows are faintly stained black. Some sidewalk blocks have been pushed up over the years.
And whacking the weeds, Roberts said, is only a temporary solution to a long-term problem. They need to be pulled, he said, or poisoned.
The post office was once the centerpiece of the city, he said. It has since been tarnished, he said.
But Susie Manning, who was outside the post office holding a small box she was mailing under her arm, said she doesn't understand why the mayor is so upset.
The city's outskirts are worse, and, besides, she said, topics such as employment, the economy, homelessness, social services and partnering with nonprofits are more important.
"I think there're other concerns that he needs to focus on," she said, "other than the weeds at the post office."
Roberts said the post office is an "institutional citizen" and its officials are obligated to maintain its grounds and building.
For more than a year he's been asking Begay to do something about the post office's weeds, trash and its disheveled exterior, he said, with no response. He wanted to work with Begay, but, he said he's been "stonewalled."
"I imagine if you're able to talk to the guy, he'll say they've been responsive," Roberts said, standing by the post office's awning.
He waved his hand over the littered weed clippings and said, "This isn't responsive."