PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson Community Foundation is looking for a new home after it was evicted from its office for posting a sign that read “Black Lives Matter.”
An attorney for the property manager said the issue was the posting of any signage, not the content itself.
The foundation left its rented space at the Salmon Business Park in Port Hadlock on Tuesday, according to a Facebook post made by the foundation.
“Two weeks ago, we were given notice to immediately vacate our office space in the Salmon Office Park in Port Hadlock,” according to post written by President and CEO Siobhan Canty and the staff and board of the foundation.
“The reason cited by Property Manager Brent Garrett was that a Black Lives Matter sign we taped on the window violated a clause in our lease requiring approval for signage,” the post said.
“We have been located in Salmon Office Park for years and have posted many signs in the windows without written approval,” it said.
Matthew Lind, attorney for Garrett, the Salmon Business Park manager, issued a cease and desist letter to Canty on Wednesday, claiming the statements made in the Facebook post were “false” and “constitute defamation,” calling for the post’s removal or edit.
“Your lease includes provisions which require consent from my client for any signage,” Lind said. “My client put you on written notice, and perhaps this notice was not initially received, but my client exercised his rights under your lease.
“This is not for any political reasons, as my client prefers that all politically motivated signage not be used.”
Lind said in the letter that no office at the business park displays a political sign.
He continued: “My client offered to discuss this with you (for which there is written documentation that you have omitted), including allowing you to stay as a tenant after you removed the signage, but you have refused to engage in a reasonable dialogue on this issue, preferring instead to engage in gas lighting [sic].
“Please do not attempt to create political hysteria based on a pretext. The current circumstances are already difficult enough for us all with COVID and BLM in the background. My client’s demands were solely for business purposes, not political. This has nothing to do with my client’s opinion about the BLM movement.”
In the email Garrett said was the first interaction regarding the sign, he said, “Please familiarize your staff with section #8 of our lease. Political signage (your BLM window) applied to this building will not be granted written approval to anyone for obvious reasons. This is time sensitive notice to that fact.
“I understand. I have black family members, but we can’t do that to the building.”
In a later text to Peninsula Daily News on Wednesday, Garrett said, “Trump, Bernie, Biden or BLM, this can’t happen for obvious reasons,” he said.
“Again, I can assure you, they were given the opportunity to stay here,” Garrett said.
Canty later wrote in an email to Peninsula Daily News, “JCF feels confident that our two statements speak for themselves and we will not provide any further comment.”
Currently the foundation staff are working from home with office supplies in storage. JCF may have found a potential new office space, “but it will need some work before we can move in,” JCF officials said.
In a statement following Lind’s letter Wednesday, JCF said it is not calling for action against Garrett or the Salmon Business Park. Rather, the organization wants people to focus on the problem of systematic racism in Jefferson County.
“We appreciate the expressions of support and desire to act in solidarity as JCF navigates unexpected changes,” the statement said. “It is critical that we all use this moment to be for ending systemic racism and not against a specific person or business.
“JCF is clear that our mission and capacity should not be consumed by a single act but should be dedicated to serving as an ongoing asset to efforts to dismantle systemic racism broadly in Jefferson County,” the statement continued.
“The JCF Board, staff and network will be talking more about what that looks like in upcoming weeks. In the meantime, we encourage you to direct your energies and resources to positive action with local anti-racist groups.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, JCF raised more than $560,000 for community-led efforts to help the people of Jefferson County navigate the health and economic crisis, and while doing so, it did not accept administrative fees, JCF said.
Now, in addition to the COVID-19 fund, JCF is accepting donations to assist the organization with costs associated with building out a new space, moving in and out of storage, new signage and other expenses.
To make a donation, those interested can go to www.JCFgives.org.
The mailing address for JCF is PO Box 1394, Port Hadlock, 98339. Its office line, 360-385-1729, will remain the same for now.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 360-385-2335, ext. 5.