LACONIA — A Wednesday night meeting of the Laconia Heritage Commission was cut short after a lawyer asked two of the five members to recuse themselves.
The commission was scheduled to discuss St. Joseph’s Church.
The Diocese of Manchester previously submitted an application for a demolition permit for the 1929 church.
Attorney Christopher Boldt, of Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella, told the commission he had been recently hired to represent the Diocese.
Citing comments that Jane Whitehead had made to the media, Boldt said, it was improper for Whitehead to sit as chairman of the commission.
“I’m not here to say that the church is coming down,” Boldt said, explaining the Diocese has requested a continuance. He suggested that if the commission made a ruling that was unfavorable to the Diocese and the issue was appealed, the Superior Court might find that Whitehead was biased based on statements the media had attributed to her.
“You’ve made your opinions known,” he told Whitehead. “You need to recuse yourself and not participate in this matter going forward,” he continued.
Commissioner Catherine Tokarz said she had written letters to the editor, was involved with the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Preservation Society and had even written to Pope Francis.
Telling Tokarz that he appreciated her candor, Boldt said she should also step down.
“We wouldn’t have a quorum,” Whitehead said.
“You’ve tied our hands,” said Tokarz.
“I haven’t tied your hands. You have taken a public position,” Boldt said.
He said the Diocese had requested that the commission postpone taking action on the application. Whitehead said the agenda had been posted before the request was made.
Boldt also told the commission that since the church property was what drove the push to establish a Historic District, that they could not speak about that topic either during Wednesday’s meeting.
“The press is not your friend. Less is more. It is very hard to take back a statement once you’ve said it,” Boldt said.
On a motion by City Councilor Mark Haynes, who serves as the council’s liaison to the commission, the commission ultimately voted to table the two agenda items that would have dealt with church-related issues.
Prior to adjourning, Whitehead asked the city’s planning director, Dean Trefethen, to schedule the city’s legal counsel to meet with the commission. The commission will meet next in September.