The controversial owner of a car sales and automotive repair business on Eastern Avenue tried the patience of the Board of Selectmen on Monday when he was called to account for overstepping—three times in less than two years—the rules of his operating license.
Mark Gallagher, owner of Dynamic Auto Brokers and Specialized Auto, came into the meeting like a lion and left like a lamb, ultimately telling the BOS, “This license is dear to me,” and agreeing to return at its next meeting on June 1 with a detailed, signed promise that he is in total compliance with his Class II License to display and sell used cars.
The whole business stemmed from two inspections in April and early May by Essex Building Inspector Bill Sandborn in which 50 vehicles were reported on the property, violating the 18-vehicle limit in the license that Gallagher renewed just last year.
The extended property has a relatively small strip of frontage at 147 Eastern Avenue, with cars lined up for sale by Dynamic Auto Brokers and continues back to a separate area of the property where there’s an automotive repair business, called Specialized Auto. Gallagher is co-owner of Dynamic Auto Brokers with Charles F. Coles, Jr., (who didn’t attend Monday’s BOS hearing) and flies solo on the repair business, which has historically specialized in Saab automobiles, which are no longer manufactured and require “donor” vehicles that Gallagher has kept around to strip for needed parts.
The issue of donor vehicles and Gallagher’s partnership in the dealer business seem to be the drivers of his consistent run-ins with town officials, environmental regulators, his neighbors and the building inspector. Gallagher has appeared before the BOS at least six times in recent years to answer complaints that he has overstepped what he’s licensed to do. Neighbors said his business behaves like an unlicensed salvage yard.
This all came to a head in late 2018 and early 2019, when as a condition of renewing his license Gallagher was ordered to remove more than 100 cars from his property, build a fence or screen barrier of plantings along the area where vehicles are worked on and stored, and stay in compliance. Cars were removed, the property cleaned up, an ill-fated stretch of arborvitae was installed but quickly died (“I didn’t realize arborvitae’s like candy for deer,” he said), and then a fence was installed. Progress, and by the end of January, Gallagher announced that his business site is in total compliance. He said the only vehicles remaining on the property were those for sale, those being repaired by Specialized Auto, his own personal registered vehicles and employee vehicles. By February 2019, he had his license for 18 vehicles plus personal cars.
Then, at his April inspection this year, Sandborn reported 52 vehicles on the property.
On Monday BOS meeting, Gallagher staged a strong offense, leaning on an interpretation of his operating license. Specialized Auto was one business, he said. Dynamic Auto Brokers is another. So, by this logic, the operating license allowing 18 vehicles should mean he can have 36, plus his personal vehicles. Right? Besides, Gallagher said, he can’t control what his business partner is doing.
The BOS was not interested in interpretation. Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki, who has met with Gallagher many times to work through the back issues and finer points of compliance, said the license was linked to the property, not each business and asked that BOS Chairman Ruth Pereen read that actual language of the license. Selectman Andrew Spinney then added that Gallagher’s inability to manage his business partner’s actions is not a good sign (“Who’s watching the ship?” he asked.)
But Selectman Peter Phippen said he’s inclined to suspend the license. Gallagher, Phippen said, does not appear interested in taking the board’s orders seriously and instead repeatedly comes before the BOS to answer to the same complaints about the number of vehicles stored on his property. If Gallagher isn’t hearing the message the BOS has been sending, Phippen argued, then maybe he’ll understand a suspension and fall into line.
Gallagher, who besides being in the automotive business is a national speedboat racing champion, reset and began adopting a more productive posture. He said he does take the board seriously. He said he’s changed the whole business model of Specialized Auto to move away from Saabs, and he said business has been really good (selling about three cars per week since February).
Most importantly, Gallagher said, he’s clear and he’s falling into line.
Was it enough for the board to offer one more chance? In the end, yes. Chairman Pereen recommended Gallagher immediately remove all non-compliant (unregistered) vehicles, and then he must draft a detailed memo spelling out the rules of the license, in practical terms, to share with all employees of Dynamic Auto Brokers and Specialized Auto (and one would imagine Mr. Gallagher’s business partner as well). She also asked that Gallagher draft policy and procedures for each of his employees to sign, and then submit to quarterly inspections by the town. Spinney and Phippen agreed and voted that all these things must be done before the next BOS meeting on June 1 at 6 p.m.
Mr. Gallagher agreed.