Howard Dempsey recalled how he was about to open his antique store for business one morning last October.
"Somebody knocked on the door and came in and asked whether I had video coverage of the parking area," said Dempsey, a West Bridgewater business owner of more than 40 years. "He said his car had just been keyed."
That person was West Bridgewater Town Administrator David Gagne, who said that he’d found a large scratch on the 2019 Audi he’d purchased just a week earlier.
According to emails the NBC10 Investigators obtained via public records request, Gagne later wrote to Select Board members that he had met the DPW director and an engineering consultant in the parking lot that morning to inspect a future sidewalk project.
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When the three town employees returned to their vehicles a couple hours later, Gagne said they noticed the damage to the driver’s side door of the vehicle. Both of the other vehicles were unscathed.
"It is unequivocal that the scratch occurred while I was conducting town business," Gagne wrote. "While impossible to confirm, it appears I was targeted specifically because of my position in town."
After failing to find surveillance video that could identify the culprit, Gagne said he tried to secure several quotes to fix the damage. The town administrator, who makes a salary of about $156,000, then asked the Select Board members to approve the cost of about $1,200 from a local autobody shop.
Records show two of the elected officials signed off on the expense. However, Select Board member Meredith Anderson expressed her disapproval.
In an emailed response to Gagne, she wrote: "In all due respect, I disagree with your request and am not agreeable to spending taxpayers’ money to fix your personal vehicle. Had you been in a town car, which I thought was the reason to have a town hall car, then I agree the town should pay for the repair."
Dempsey, the business owner, sided with that sentiment.
"I didn’t see any other vehicles pulling in or out. This could’ve happened anywhere," he said. "That’s not making me happy at all because it’s not a part of taxpayer's money."
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Gagne told the NBC10 Investigators he understands why the optics of the situation might not look good. However, he believes he followed all appropriate steps to avoid a conflict of interest, including seeking a legal opinion from the town counsel.
Since the incident, Gagne also said he has tried to use a town vehicle as much as possible when he’s conducting West Bridgewater business. And he never plans to ask taxpayers for reimbursement for his personal vehicle again.