Jerry Dodge has his 16 acres and house back. It's what he's been fighting for after going public with regrets over selling to his neighbor, Gov. Peter Shumlin. Dodge's family says he was not capable of negotiating a complex deal one-on-one with the governor without a lawyer. The governor has made millions off real estate transactions.
"I'm a slow learner to start with," Dodge told WCAX News in May. "I have a hard time comprehending a lot of things."
In a deal signed Monday evening before the governor left on a two-week vacation, Dodge will pay the governor back $30,483 over five years, money the governor spent on Dodge's back taxes, home repairs and delinquent child support. Interest will be set at the lowest rate allowed by the IRS-- 2.8 percent. For the first four years Dodge will pay interest only and then will pay interest and principal in the fifth year.
In a statement through their attorneys, the Dodge family said: "(We) are deeply grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from our friends and the community. (We) could not be happier to be back in our family home and look forward to spending many years there."
The governor agrees and responded to our question about the agreement just hours before sitting down with Dodge and lawyers to sign the deal Monday.
"I'm glad it all worked out," Shumlin said. "His kids have gotten involved as you probably know to help him keep the house in the future. So, it was a very good outcome for what was a very difficult situation for Jerry Dodge."
The controversy started nine months ago. Shumlin officially bought a home and land from Dodge the day after winning re-election. The governor stepped in before the property was set to go to a tax sale and paid well below its assessed value.
With the agreed upon move-out date approaching, Dodge went public in May despite the governor telling him not to talk to reporters. The governor defended the deal, calling it fair.
In early June, Shumlin hired a well-connected Democratic lawyer and then offered to let Dodge buy his land back. After being turned down by low-income advocates, Dodge got representation from lawyers with Republican ties.
Last month, both sides announced a tentative deal.
And almost a month later, Monday evening, it was signed.
Shumlin said last month he learned lessons from the ordeal.
"I recognize that as governor, I'm governor every single day. That's the lesson for me," Shumlin said in July. "And obviously I regret getting involved in what was a very difficult situation because of the fact I'm always governor and I'm held to a different standard than average citizens."
Vermont Law School professor and ethicist Reed Loder appeared on The :30 Monday. She says public officials should be held to a higher standard.
"It's hard to take off your public official hat even when you are carrying out your personal activities that seem unrelated to your office. So, sometimes it does take a blow in a sense to understand that on a concrete level. And I'm glad that Governor Shumlin made that statements because I think it does show the public that he is recognizing the limits of his position and the very high duties he does owe to them," Loder said.
Now that the property is back in Dodge's name, he plans to take steps to keep it. Dodge makes about $8,000 a year. He was paying about $4,500 in property taxes, but because he is low-income, he should have been paying about $460. He plans to get that corrected and says if he had known that, he would not have gotten behind on his taxes in the first place, which is what led to the sale.
Officials at the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living would not talk about their investigation into whether Governor Shumlin took advantage of a vulnerable adult, but did say they are still within the 90-day time period to complete the case, and that probes do continue even if there is a resolution between two parties because it does not change the underlying charge.
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