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August 20. 2013 9:49PM

Danville selectman resigns from board after controversial tenure


Danville Selectman Russ Harding 

DANVILLE A Danville selectman who pleaded guilty in June to assaulting a teenager at a town movie night and most recently was accused of violating his oath of office by fellow selectmen has resigned.

Selectmen received a letter from Selectman Russell Harding on Tuesday informing them that he was resigning from the board because of work and other obligations, according to Selectman Shawn O'Neil, board chairman.
The resignation comes several weeks after selectmen filed a petition in Rockingham County Superior Court asking a judge to remove Harding from the board for allegedly violating ethics and his oath of office.

Harding denied the allegations and asked a judge to dismiss the complaint in court papers filed Aug. 8.

The complaint accuses the 36-year-old Harding of bringing "nonpublic material, personnel and private information into a public forum." The complaint doesn't offer details about the information that Harding allegedly made public.

The board argues that Harding violated his oath by "risking exposure to the town" through reckless action. The petition also accuses Harding of engaging in reckless action for personal gain and risking damage to the "reputation and harm of town employees."

Harding denies all of the board's accusations and has objected to the board's request that he be dismissed from office.

In their complaint, selectmen refer to a state law that gives the court the power to dismiss a town official. Because he was elected, the town couldn't force him to resign.

O'Neil said he's not sure what will happen to the complaint now that Harding has resigned.

Selectmen asked Harding to resign last fall after he was arrested on simple assault charges, but he refused at the time.

In June, Harding pleaded guilty to assaulting a 13-year-old boy by grabbing the back of his neck during a town movie night at Day Field last August.

Selectmen have not said whether the assault case is related to the petition seeking Harding's removal.In court papers filed by his attorney, Robert Casassa of Casassa and Ryan in Hampton, Harding argues that he is "not aware of any lawfully noticed public meeting at which the filing of the instant complaint was authorized by a majority of the board of selectmen."Harding has also objected to selectmen's request to have the court hold a "closed-door session" with a judge due to the "nature of the information."

While he denies the allegations, Harding maintains in court documents that if he has brought nonpublic personnel and private information "into a public forum" as claimed by the board "then such information is already a matter of public record" and a closed-door session with a judge isn't warranted.
jschreiber@newstote.com


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