Vt. governor breaks silence on controversial land deal - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. governor breaks silence on controversial land deal

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Gov. Peter Shumlin Gov. Peter Shumlin
Jerry Dodge (right) Jerry Dodge (right)
Dodge shows the letter he got from Gov. Peter Shumlin. Dodge shows the letter he got from Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Governor Peter Shumlin is breaking his silence about a controversial land deal with his East Montpelier neighbor. Jerry Dodge sold his home and 16 acres to the governor last November. Dodge was facing a tax sale. The two negotiated and eventually agreed on a sale price of $58,000. That's less than half the property's current assessed value.

Dodge now regrets the sale and thinks the governor took advantage of him. Dodge's friends and family tell us he is not mentally competent to negotiate a complex deal and Dodge did not have a lawyer.

The governor says he was just helping his neighbor.

After five days of turning down our requests for interviews, the governor agreed Friday to talk one-on-one to Reporter Jennifer Reading, but he only gave her 20 minutes to ask questions.

He made it clear that he has no regrets about this land deal and continues to insist it was a fair and neighborly deal. Even so, Friday he came out with a new offer for Jerry Dodge.

Reporter Jennifer Reading: Why did you enter in a deal with Jerry Dodge?

Gov. Peter Shumlin/D-Vermont: I'm his neighbor. So, I did this as a Vermonter and a neighbor. I saw a situation that would be fair for Jerry and fair for me.

Jennifer Reading: Do you think Mr. Dodge is capable of going head-to-head with you on a land deal?

Gov. Peter Shumlin: You know, I have never doubted Jerry's competency or his ability to understand this transaction which he understood clearly and he understood that it was fair for him and fair for me.

Jennifer Reading: Governor, you've made your money off of real estate deals, you've written tax laws. Jerry has an eighth-grade education. How in the world was this a level playing field?

Gov. Peter Shumlin: Well, I just want to ask you the question differently. You have someone here who is in a really tough spot. Has no one who is willing to engage with him or help him out. Has a criminal record that is despicable, frankly, so lots of people are not going to feel like they want to help for all good reasons. Would it be fair as a neighbor and a Vermonter just to say OK, you're on your own?

Jennifer Reading: So, you readily admit that Jerry comes with a host of problems. Why not insist that he had a lawyer to avoid any appearances of impropriety?

Gov. Peter Shumlin: Listen, I urged Jerry on numerous occasions to get a lawyer. He refused. I can't make someone do something they don't want to do.

Jennifer Reading: He says he did not get a lawyer because he could not afford one. That's a little different.

Gov. Peter Shumlin: He never expressed that to me. When I would bring up the lawyer question he was very adamant that he wasn't engaging a lawyer. He never told me why.

Jennifer Reading: Governor, you keeping mentioning that this is a neighbor helping a neighbor. If you wrote Act 60, why not inform that low-income neighbor of his options?

Gov. Peter Shumlin: It's not quite that simple... We're not certain that he could have gotten anything back. We're looking into that, but it was a complicated arrangement because the title was not in Jerry's name until recently... This isn't a traditional real estate transaction. I didn't see it as that. I saw it as a neighbor not turning their back on a neighbor who, as I said, has done despicable things but is trying to better himself. And I saw an opportunity that would be good for Jerry and good for me.

Jennifer Reading: Do you think your position of power influenced anyone along the way in this land deal?

Gov. Peter Shumlin: No, I don't think so. I think I was doing this as a Vermonter and a neighbor. I would do the same thing again. I don't have the capacity to turn to a neighbor who has the kind of challenges that Jerry was facing and walk away... So, that's the spirit for which I did it and folks can criticize me for it, but I would criticize a neighbor for not helping out if they can... I don't want to suggest that this was altruistic. It was a win for me and a win for Jerry. Now Jerry's changed his mind about that and I'm looking forward to going back into discussions with him so that he ends up in a place where he feels better about the arrangement.

From the governor's office to an East Montpelier road. We found Jerry Dodge hitchhiking to town to run errands. He had a letter with him that the governor hand-delivered Friday morning.

"He's a good person," Dodge said.

In the note, Shumlin now offers to pay Dodge's legal fees in an effort to work something out with the Dodge family. But Jerry says he's not looking for more money.

"No, it's not about the money," Dodge said. "It's about the land. It's a lot of heritage there."

He wants to reimburse the governor and tear up the deal.

Jennifer Reading: Would you agree to that?

Gov. Peter Shumlin: As I said, I'm not going to negotiate with Jerry through the press. Let me put it this way, as I said just a second, let me help you out, you are short on time, I don't think it's helpful for me and Jerry to have conversations through the press. We should do it as we've always done it, sitting down to talk it out and I will insist he has a lawyer when he does this.

The governor says the house is uninhabitable and he doesn't think anyone, including Jerry, should be living there. There is no time frame on when all of this may get resolved.

There are no state laws prohibiting the governor from entering into a land deal with someone like Jerry, who is currently on parole. But if you are a Corrections employee, entering into any real estate deal with someone under Corrections supervision is a fireable offense. High ranking state employees must also sign a code of ethics, but the governor does not.

Earlier this week we confirmed that the FBI spoke to Jerry's friends about the deal. Friday, the governor said no one in law enforcement has ever approached him about the deal.

Related Stories:

Dodge family vows to fight Vt. governor for land

What is a tax sale and how does it work?

Vt. man claims governor took advantage of him in land deal

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