EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 5, 2013

Danville selectman remains on leave

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — DANVILLE — Two months after Selectman Russell Harding took a leave of absence following his arrest on charges he assaulted a teenage boy, selectmen wonder when he will return to the board.

Harding notified selectmen in November he needed a break from the board to deal with his legal issues.

In his letter to board, Harding 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 and selectmen have not heard from him, Selectmen’s Chairman Shawn O’Neil said. Harding did not the board’s meeting earlier this week, he said.

O’Neil and Selectman Chris Giordano said it’s frustrating for the board to go months without one of its five members. Selectmen are in the midst of preparing for Town Meeting in March.

“He’s just dragging it out,” Giordano said yesterday. “It’s just putting more of a strain on the board. It just spreads out the workload.”

O’Neil said Harding should resign if he doesn’t intend to serve, allowing selectmen to appoint a replacement to fill the remainder of his three-year term, which ends in March 2014. Harding is on unpaid leave from the $250-a-month post.

“It would be nice to have someone in there if he’s out,” Giordano said. “He can always apply to run again.”

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

“He’s not resigning, so we can’t do anything at this point,” O’Neil said Thursday.

Under state law, a public official can only be removed from office if convicted of a felony.

The arrest stemmed from a confrontation with the teen Aug. 18 during the town’s Movie Night. Harding admitted pushing the teen, but nothing more after he thought 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.

He stopped attending the board’s weekly meetings in mid-September, shortly after his arrest, O’Neil said.

Harding could not be reached yesterday and has declined to comment since turning himself in to state police on a warrant Sept. 6.