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Shumlin Offers Help To Neighbor Unhappy With Land Deal

Governor Peter Shumlin is defending a controversial land deal in which he acquired his neighbor’s property for less than a half of its assessed value.

The governor said he was trying to help a neighbor who was in financial and legal trouble. And Shumlin said he reached out to his neighbor again this week and promised to improve the deal.

Dogged by headlines over the land deal, the governor spent the afternoon after a tour of flood ravaged northwest Vermont doing damage control with the media.

Meeting individually with reporters instead of at a news conference, the governor explained how he came to acquire a house and 16 acres in East Montpelier that belonged to his neighbor, 54-year old Jeremy Dodge. The story was reported in the Barre Montpelier Times Argus.

The Dodge property was up for a tax sale last fall when Shumlin – after Dodge reached out – stepped in with an offer of $58,000. The house and land were originally assessed at $233,000 but the value was later reduced at Shumlin’s request to $140,000 because of the poor condition of the house.

“There was no one else there willing to help. There was no one else lining up. Not his family, no neighbors,” Shumlin said. “He came to me and looked me in the eye and said ‘I’ve got nowhere to turn, will you help me?’”

Shumlin said he was simply trying to help a destitute neighbor with a lengthy criminal record who was trying to put his life back together.

The governor also agreed to pay the back taxes, paid for repairs to the water system, and allowed Dodge to live there through the middle of July.

“I don’t have the capacity to turn to someone like that and say: ‘I’m going to stand by while you don’t have heat in the winter, don’t have water, and have no recourse,’” he said. “I’m not willing to do that. That’s me the neighbor, not me the governor.”

But Jeremy Dodge said he now regrets the sale, and he and his family are looking for a lawyer to renegotiate.

Shumlin on Friday met with Dodge and said he’s happy to do that. “I’m willing to work with him to ensure that he ends up in a place that he feels better,” he said.

Dodge said he believes the governor is a good person who was trying to help. But Dodge, who has a speech impediment and didn’t graduate from high school, said his friends and family have now told him he didn’t get a fair price for the property.

“He made me the offer; I thought it was a fairly good deal. But I’m further into it, I’m like hearing from people how bad I got ripped off,” he said.

Dodge’s daughter Rochelle Dodge said she’s getting her father’s medical records and wants his mental health evaluated to see if he was capable of negotiating a sales contract with the governor. “My dad is going to be releasing all this information to myself to look at and we’re going to go to a lawyer, to see what the lawyer has to say, to see if there is any way we can void this whole transaction,” she said. “Because my dad is clearly incapable of making this decision on his own.”

Shumlin said he tried to insist that Dodge get a lawyer when they made the deal last fall. He said Dodge refused several times. And the governor said he believes Dodge was capable of negotiating the deal.

“Jerry fully understood the agreement that he entered into and I never doubted that for one second,” he said. “I encouraged him, urged him to get a lawyer on numerous occasions, and he refused. And Jerry’s a headstrong guy. He makes his decisions. He wasn’t going to get a lawyer.”

Shumlin said he would do the deal again, not for the real estate, which adjoins his home in East Montpelier, but to help a neighbor in need.

“I cannot turn to a neighbor and a Vermonter – despite a long criminal record, despite all the awful things that he’s done, who’s trying to better himself and just walk away,” he said. “I wanted to find a way that would be fair for him, and fair for me, to get out of the mess that he was in. That’s why I went into it. And I’m going to see it through and see it resolved.”

The governor said he’s offered to pay for Dodge to get a lawyer if and when the land deal is renegotiated.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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