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Danville selectman charged with assault will skip meetings

DANVILLE - A selectman facing assault charges has told fellow board members that he plans to remain absent from meetings until the end of February.

Selectman Russell Harding informed the board of his plans in a letter dated Jan. 2.

"I feel that my presence on the board of selectmen, or an unqualified absence, is a continued distraction to the town. For that reason I will continue to sit out meetings for the foreseeable future," Harding wrote, adding that he intends to continue his unpaid absence until Feb. 28.

Harding hasn't shown up at a selectmen's meeting since Sept. 16 when he refused to quit after selectmen asked for his resignation.

He faces 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. Harding has denied assaulting the boy.

Harding's term doesn't end until 2014 and selectmen can't force him to resign because he's an elected official, which means he could remain a selectman but skip meetings for as long as he wants.

Last November, Harding gave selectmen a letter asking that he be placed on unpaid leave until the end of last year.

Harding's case is scheduled for trial Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. in the 10th Circuit Court in Plaistow.

Selectmen have insisted that Harding is doing the board a disservice and ignoring his obligation to the town.

Selectmen agreed that Harding's absence would be considered "unexcused."

Selectman Michelle Cooper abstained to avoid a conflict as she is a Danville police officer who responded to the park on the night of the alleged assault.

"He is basically holding the town in a disenfranchised environment because nobody can step forward and run for that position. It does put a strain on the board because now there's just four of us. There's not much we can do," said Selectman Shawn O'Neil, board chairman.

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