Two months after he took on Gov. Peter Shumlin over a land deal gone sour, East Montpelier resident Jeremy Dodge says he's happy with an agreement he struck late Wednesday with the governor.
"It's a good deal," Dodge (pictured) says. "I got my property back and that's what I was looking for. I wasn't looking for anything else."
Shumlin, for whom the dispute represented the biggest political crisis of his two-and-a-half years in office, is also relieved to put the situation behind him, according to his lawyer.
"He's pleased that Jeremy Dodge and his family are pleased," says Jerome Diamond, Shumlin's attorney.
Faced with a looming tax sale prompted by $17,000 in unpaid taxes, Dodge sold his home and 16 acres to Shumlin, a neighbor, last November for $58,000. At the time, the property was appraised at $233,700, though a subsequent reappraisal reduced its value to $140,000.
Nearly two months ago, as Dodge's July 15 deadline to move out of the house approached, he and his family told reporters Shumlin had taken advantage of him — and sought to nullify the agreement. They said the 54-year-old man lacked the mental capacity and legal representation to strike such a deal with an accomplished negotiator and real estate investor like Shumlin.
Both sides engaged high-powered attorneys, who spent the last month negotiating a resolution. Shumlin's team presented Dodge with several proposals and late Wednesday, as WCAX's Jennifer Reading first reported, the aggrieved neighbor agreed to one.
"An agreement has been reached in principle," says Dodge's attorney, Brady Toensing. "The details will be worked out in the next few weeks, but it involves Mr. Dodge buying back the property over the next five years."
According to Diamond, Dodge will owe Shumlin "those amounts that the governor was actually out-of-pocket that benefited Jeremy Dodge." He will not be responsible for fees paid to Shumlin's real estate lawyer.
"The exact amount needs a little verification, but it's in the general area of $30,000," Diamond says. "Jeremy will pay back interest only for the first four years and in the fifth year will pay interest, plus the principal."
Diamond says he expects to reach a final, signed agreement by August 15. That's the date to which Dodge's eviction had been postponed.
For Shumlin, the resolution surely comes as a welcome relief. The governor endured weeks of political blowback as his critics argued that the wealthy businessman had taken advantage of a Vermonter in need. Many assumed that Toensing, who has represented powerful Republican clients like former lieutenant governor Brian Dubie, would seek to drag out the dispute to exact even more political damage on the governor.
Wednesday's accord should provide an opportunity for Shumlin to put the episode behind him, though it's likely his future political opponents will remind voters of the dispute come election time. One unanswered question is how Shumlin and Dodge, who disparaged one another in the press, will fare living in such close proximity.
For his part, Dodge says he's looking forward to moving on.
"We're going to be good neighbors," he says. "I'll help him when he needs help. I have no hard feelings to him at all."
Dodge says his daughters have committed to helping him settle his debts with the governor. And he says he's working to improve the condition of his home, which was in disrepair when Shumlin bought it.
"I'm starting to fix the house up inside," Dodge says. "It's all good to me."