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November 15. 2012 10:48PM

Selectman on unpaid leave following altercation with teen


HARDING 
DANVILLE - Selectman Russell Harding has taken an unpaid leave of absence from the board following allegations he physically assaulted a teenager, but his refusal to resign continues to irk fellow selectmen.

Harding has not appeared at a selectmen's meeting since Sept. 16 when the board asked for his resignation and he refused, according to Selectman Shawn O'Neil, board chairman.

Harding, 36, turned himself in to state police Sept. 6 on two counts of simple assault after he was accused of grabbing a 13-year-old boy by the back of his neck and forcing his head into a table during a town movie night on Aug. 18, according to the complaints.

Because he's an elected official, selectmen can't force him to leave the board. His term doesn't end until March 2014.

"He's not serving the people and the best interests of Danville by him not attending," O'Neil said. "If he were to resign the board could appoint somebody and the person could run (for the position) while he's dealing with his own personal matters and not bringing the town into his own personal life."

In a letter to the town, Harding asked selectmen to place him on unpaid leave from the board until the end of the year. While he hasn't attended meetings, O'Neil said Harding continued to earn the $250 he's paid each month for serving on the board during the months of September and October.

"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. For that reason I will continue to sit out meetings until a resolution has been arrived at. I request that the board consider this as notice that I intend to continue my absence and to treat this as an unpaid leave of absence until a resolution is reached or Dec. 31 2012, whichever comes first," Harding's letter said.

Harding is scheduled to face trial on the assault charges on Feb. 21.

Selectmen publicly censured Harding in September for "conduct unbecoming" a selectman after the alleged incident at the movie night.

The altercation occurred when Harding confronted the teenager because he thought he was tampering with the equipment.

Harding told selectmen at a meeting in early September that he put himself in between the teenager and the town's movie equipment and in doing so "touched" the boy.

However, Harding admitted to the New Hampshire Union Leader that he pushed the teenager to get him away from the equipment.



jschreiber@newstote.com

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