EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 16, 2012

Danville selectman takes leave of absence

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune

---- — DANVILLE — Two months after he was censured by his colleagues, Selectman Russell Harding is taking a leave of absence.

Harding has not attended the board’s weekly meetings since mid-September, shortly after he was charged with assaulting a teenage boy, Selectmen’s Chairman Shawn O’Neil said.

Harding notified selectmen last week that he was taking an unpaid of leave of absence while he deals with his legal issues, O’Neil said.

He was asked by the board to resign, but refused. Harding was charged with allegedly grabbing the boy by the neck and pushing his head against a table.

“He never gave any indication he wasn’t going to attend,” O’Neil said. “He just didn’t show up.”

Selectmen receive $250 a month. Harding has continued to be paid, even though he has not fulfilled his duties, O’Neil said.

O’Neil said he read a letter from Harding at the board’s meeting last week.

“Until this situation reaches a decision, I feel that my presence on the board of selectmen, or an unqualified absence, is a distraction to the town,” Harding wrote. “For that reason, I will continue to sit out meetings until a resolution has been arrived at.”

Harding also said in the letter he would not return until after Dec. 31 or when his court case was resolved, whichever came first.

But his trial in 10th Circuit in Plaistow on two misdemeanor assault charges has since been scheduled for February.

Harding could not be reached for comment yesterday.

He has refused to speak about the case since turning himself in to state police on a warrant Sept. 6.

The arrest stems 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.

Selectmen asked him to resign twice, but he refused.

O’Neil and other selectmen have said Harding should step down because he is creating a distraction. A replacement would be appointed to serve the remainder of his term, which ends in March 2014, O’Neil said.

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