Eight Years Wasted: Rick Starbard Reflects on His Time with the ADALB

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

When AASP/MA Past President Rick Starbard (Rick’s Auto Collision; Revere) was appointed to the Auto Damage Appraiser Licensing Board (ADALB) in June 2015 – alongside former Board member Lyle Pare (Plymouth Rock Assurance Corporation and current Board member Bill Johnson (Pleasant Street Auto; South Hadley/Belchertown) – many Commonwealth repairers viewed the big changes as signifying a new era for the ADALB.

But that era came to an abrupt end last fall when Starbard was unceremoniously replaced by his predecessor, Carl Garcia (Carl’s Collision Center; Fall River). In fact, no mention was made of the new appointments when the Board gathered on October 5, 2023; Starbard’s seat was merely filled by Garcia while Vicky Wei Ye (Bos Insurance Agency) sat where Samantha Tracy (Arbella Insurance) could previously be found.

Upon his appointment to the ADALB, Starbard shared his hopes and goals for his role as a Board member with New England Automotive Report (available at grecopublishing.com/new-england-automotive-report-july-2015). After eight years of service, one has to wonder: Did he accomplish what he set out to do? What obstacles did he face when tackling his objectives? And why did Starbard vacate his seat on the Board? He sat down with us to answer these questions and more.

New England Automotive Report: First off, thank you for serving on the ADALB for eight years! What were your goals/hopes going into this role?

Rick Starbard: I really thought we were going to be able to make a change and get things done differently than they had been done in the past as then-Governor Charlie Baker had appointed two shop guys who had no contracts with insurance companies. Since the Board’s inception, that had never happened before; it was the first time. When people have contracts, I think that’s held over their heads when they vote because they depend on getting business through those contracts, so they tend to vote in that insurer’s best interests, not in the best interest of our industry and other shops. It didn’t take long after I began serving on the Board to see how things actually got done. It was very disillusioning. We stopped a few bad things from happening to our industry, but we didn’t seem to make any progress in effecting positive change. It feels like we were so busy playing defense that we were never able to get anything done on offense. 

NEAR: When you were appointed to the ADALB in 2015, it was lauded as a “new era” for the Board. Do you think things changed significantly during your tenure? If yes, in what ways? If no, why not?

RS: No, we didn’t change anything. Anybody who watched the proposed changes to the regulations play out could see it clearly – we weren’t getting anything changed significantly. Discussions about that thing dragged out for a year with a lot of compromise on both sides, but by the time it was finally sent up the chain for review, the Insurance Commissioner delayed acting on it, so by the time it was sent back down to us, the two insurance Board members who helped us put that initial draft together had been replaced. So, we had to revisit it with the two new people who hadn’t been part of the first discussion, and during that process, everything that benefited consumers or repairers was removed, while everything benefitting the insurers remained. And the ADALB’s regulations still haven’t been updated. Governor Baker called for those to be modernized in 2015, and while the other professional boards, which are housed under the Division of Occupational Licensure (DOL), updated their regulations since then, the ADALB – which should also be housed under the DOL but currently exists under the Division of Insurance (DOI), despite the obvious conflict of interest – has not. 

NEAR: What were your greatest accomplishments during your time on the ADALB?

RS: Right out of the gate, we were immediately successful in rescinding the photo estimate advisory ruling that the previous Board had issued, which stated that photographs constituted a personal inspection. Successfully rescinding that was probably the biggest win that we had. I don’t think we really achieved anything significant on shops’ behalf after that, although we certainly tried. 

NEAR: What were your biggest disappointments during your time on the ADALB?

RS: After all the time and effort we put into reviewing the regulation, the refusal to change it was particularly disappointing. Going all the way back to our first attempt, so much time and effort went into educating Pare, Joe Coyne (Home and Auto Appraisals; Dorchester) and Chairman Cox – who eventually started understanding the shops’ concerns which is probably why he was replaced! – before reaching compromises and drafting that proposal. We did a great job in coming to a consensus, so having it basically thrown away was disheartening. Then, it was brought back to be reviewed by a Board that had nothing to do with crafting the original changes. They voted out any updates that positively benefited consumers or repairers. It seemed like they were basically throwing it in our face that everything we had done before was a waste of our time. That was probably my biggest disappointment.

NEAR: What is the wildest or funniest complaint you heard during your time on the ADALB (that you’re able to share)?

RS: I don’t know if any of them were really funny. I think the vast majority had merit, but it often came down to whether they were properly written. Quite a few complaints submitted by consumers were dismissed because they weren’t written properly or had been filed in the wrong place. Generally, I felt the complaints we received were valid, and I don’t think there’s anything funny about the violations that were brought to our attention…though I did get some laughs when I suggested the DOI is a tax-funded country club for insurance companies and said I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they have a putting green and swimming pool on the roof (and since I’ve never been up there, I can’t say with certainty whether they do or not)!

NEAR: How did your position as an independent shop owner allow you to best serve the interest of auto body shops across the Commonwealth (or at least try to)?

RS: I didn’t have any contracts to worry about. I live with the same frustrations as the shops that file complaints every day. We deal with the same things, so I applaud those who take time to file complaints, even when they know it’s falling on deaf ears, especially the guy who wrote over 100 complaints which were all swept under the rug. 

NEAR: Do you feel that members of the ADALB, including its leadership, listen to complaints from an unbiased position, or do they have agendas that inhibit their ability to fulfill the Board’s true purpose?

RS: ABSOLUTELY NOT! I don’t think a vote is ever taken at the ADALB that is unbiased on the insurers’ side. I’m fairly confident that we’ve had members – possibly all members on the insurance side – who felt their jobs were on the line based on their votes. It’s like being a sports agent; you’re beholden to your client, not the team. Meanwhile, insurance agents don’t engage in actual appraisals or know anything about advancing technology. 

Back when Joe and Lyle sat on the Board, I believe they both tried to be fair, but they still had to toe the line somewhat for fear of angering their employer or losing contracts. Since Bill and I were both self-employed and did not participate in any insurer contracts, we never had to worry about getting fired for doing the right thing. 

NEAR: Did you ever struggle to maintain your composure during some of the more contentious discussions? Can you share a story about one of the most frustrating topics broached by the ADALB?

RS: Only during every meeting! I know my face went tomato red at some point each time the Board met. I tried to maintain some degree of professionalism, but sometimes, I just couldn’t help myself. One of the most memorable situations arose when we were reviewing a large stack of complaints from the same shop. One after another, the complaints alleged that an appraiser refused to pay for seatbelt safety checks which are required by almost every vehicle manufacturer following a collision. The safety checks are typically pretty inexpensive, like $40 each, and certain Board members were laughing that a shop owner was “wasting our time” over such a small amount of money. Well, I asked that room filled mostly with insurance representatives how many of them wouldn’t want a shop to perform a seatbelt safety check if it was their daughter’s car being repaired after an accident. Not a single hand went up, yet not one insurance company wants to pay for it. I thought that was pretty telling, and their attitude on the matter stuck with me. 

NEAR: What actions could/should be taken to make the ADALB more effective?

RS: Insurance appraisers need to actually believe the ADALB might take their license away for violating the regulations! I’ve had appraisers dare me to report them to the Board because they know nothing will happen. There needs to be a threat of losing their license or financial penalties or something. As it stands now, they know they can do whatever they want, and nothing will happen.

The only time the Board actually revokes a license is when something happens related to a shop’s appraiser. That suddenly becomes the most important thing on the planet. Filed complaints can sit for two years, but if there’s an issue with a shop, we get email updates on a Sunday morning, and it’s immediately added to the next agenda. That guy could be sitting in jail where his license cannot even be used, but we still need to revoke it as expeditiously as humanly possible. 

NEAR: How did you learn that you were being replaced at the ADALB, and how did you feel about this decision? 

RS: A friend called and asked if I had heard about the changes on the Board. I said ‘no,’ and he told me the word on the street was that I’d been replaced by Carl Garcia. Since we have a new governor, I wasn’t too surprised since it’s the Board’s M.O. [modus operandi] anyway. On my way to my first ADALB meeting, I remember calling TJ McClements who was also on his way because he didn’t know he’d been replaced. There was an insurance representative who arrived at a meeting and found his replacement in his seat! That’s just how the Board operates, and I suspect it’s how the DOI operates too. Since hearing through the rumor mill that I’d been replaced, I’ve received letters from the governor and ADALB Chairman Donovan, thanking me for my service, but I honestly wasn’t even upset about being replaced since it was all such a waste of time. 

NEAR: Do you have any concerns about what your replacement will mean for Commonwealth shops and the auto insurance landscape in Massachusetts?

RS: Honestly, I don’t. As long as the ADALB stays under the DOI, there will be zero positive changes. The DOI is never going to allow that Board to protect consumers or repairers; the ADALB exists to shield the insurance industry from its own wrongdoings. The Board needs to be moved out of the DOI and under the DOL as quickly as possible so that a Massachusetts appraisers license will actually be a professional license. Until then, nothing is ever going to happen in favor of shops or consumers. 

I’ve served on many boards and even held elected office, but the ADALB was truly the most disappointing Board I’ve ever served on and the biggest waste of my time.

Want more? Check out the February 2024 issue of New England Automotive Report!