Feud over Black Lives Matter posters may lead to legal action

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Jefferson Community Foundation announced last week it will be working remotely after the nonprofit was “forced to move” from its office at the Salmon Business Park in Port Hadlock after a disagreement with the property manager over the display of several “Black Lives Matter” posters.

According to a written statement from Siobhan Canty, president and CEO of Jefferson Community Foundation, the organization was given notice to immediately vacate its office space for violating a lease clause that required written approval of outward facing signage. This was in response to the display of several “Black Lives Matter” posters across a window of the office space.

“We have been located in the Salmon Office Park for years and have posted many signs in the windows without written approval,” Canty said in a statement.

That message was shared widely on social media and saw commenters call for a boycott of the park amid allegations that the action was an indication of racism.

Now the foundation and the property manager may be seeking legal action against each other over the dispute.

Dave Garrett, majority owner of the property, said his nephew and co-owner Brent Garrett manages the property. Dave said Brent first gave Jefferson Community Foundation 48 hours to remove the signage after it was posted, and when the nonprofit refused, it was asked to leave.

Rose Hamilton, chairwoman of Jefferson Community Foundation’s board, said in a written statement that Brent later offered to allow them to stay but the organization still chose to leave.
“We had neither the resources nor the desire, from a values perspective, to cancel the moving arrangements we had made, to take everything we had moved back out of our cars and boxes, to move back into that space and continue to pay them rent,” Hamilton said.

Dave Garrett said he does not see this situation as a win for his business as he will now have to find a new tenant for the space. He said he believes that Brent acted in good faith when he asked Jefferson Community Foundation to remove the “divisive” signage.

Garrett said the park is a place for professional business and that any display of “political” signage would not be approved. He said he does not know much about what “Black Lives Matter” means but that he understands it as having the potential to bring unwanted attention.

He said he similarly would not allow the display of any flag besides the American flag.

Garrett added he may now seek legal action against Jefferson Community Foundation for “defamation of character” and “slander,” as he believes the nonprofit has used this situation to “push a political agenda” and allege a racially motivated action where one does not exist.

A cease-and-desist letter reportedly from Matthew Lind, a Poulsbo-based attorney representing the Garretts, was sent to the foundation and posted on a blogger’s website. The letter asserted that the digital postings of Jefferson Community Foundation contained misinformation that constituted defamation, and Lind threatened legal action if the nonprofit did not change its social media posts.

“I suspect your organization has difficulty with funding already, I certainly wouldn’t want to see your organization saddled with attorneys fees and damages for defamation,” Lind wrote in the letter posted online.

“My client offered to discuss this with you… 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. Please do not attempt to create political hysteria based on a pretext.”

A written statement provided to The Leader by Canty said the foundation was “evaluating potential legal action.”

When asked for clarification on what legal action Jefferson Community Foundation may pursue Canty declined to comment further.

A second letter from Lind was sent to the foundation this week that continued to threaten legal action after the nonprofit had not removed or amended any of their online postings.

“The more JCF allows this to continue, the more it will damage my client, and we are keeping track. If you do not act quickly to end this episode, which is completely within your power to do so, my client will have no alternative remedy other than a lawsuit, and a court will not care how politically correct or important your messaging is about BLM,” Lind wrote.

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Hilary Metzger

When both the Port Townsend police and Jefferson County sheriff, the City Council and the County Commissioners have published statements in support of Black Lives Matter, it seems ironic to call the term "divisive." Instead, Black Lives Matter seems to be a community value. And it really seems ironic that the Salmon Business Park, graced by Tom Jay's magnificent "Heroic Chum", is now run by people with such little regard for "community", a term that Tom so eloquently defined. Unwanted attention? It seems the management's actions have spoken for themselves.

Saturday, July 11, 2020