EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 11, 2013

Danville selectmen won't return until after Feb. 28

By Doug Ireland

---- — DANVILLE — Selectman Russell Harding has notified fellow board members he won’t return from his leave of absence until after Feb. 28.

Harding, charged with assaulting a teenage boy, sent a letter to the board last week, saying he didn’t want his legal troubles to be a distraction, according to Selectmen’s Chairman Shawn O’Neil.

“I feel that my presence on the Board of Selectmen, or an unqualified absence, is a continued distraction to the town,” Harding wrote. “For that reason, I will continue to sit out meetings for the foreseeable future.”

Harding told selectmen in November he was taking an unpaid leave of absence to deal with his legal problems. His letter to the board at that time said he would not return until after Dec. 31 or when his court case was resolved, whichever came first.

But his Circuit Court trial on two misdemeanor simple assault charges isn’t until Feb. 21. Harding stopped attending the board’s weekly meetings in mid-September, shortly after his arrest, O’Neil said.

O’Neil said any future absences will be considered unexcused. Danville selectmen earn $250 a month.

Harding was arrested following a confrontation with the teen Aug. 18 during the town’s Movie Night. Harding admitted pushing the teen, but said he did nothing more after believing the unidentified boy was damaging the town’s movie equipment.

Harding was charged with allegedly grabbing the boy by the neck and pushing his head against a table.

Selectmen twice asked Harding to resign, saying his legal issues were creating a distraction. He refused.

Under state law, a public official can only be removed from office if convicted of a felony. Harding has refused to comment.