Local government

J.T. Dodge stands his ground

Senate candidate fights for his right to campaign on public property

J.T. Dodge campaigns on the disputed triangle on Rte. 2 in St. Johnsbury

Editor’s note: St. Johnsbury Academy is a private, independent boarding and day school accepting high school students from St. Johnsbury, other nearby communities, and students from across the U.S. and all over the world. It opened in 1842. Notable alumni include several governors, Congressmen, a U.S. Senator, and President Calvin Coolidge, who attended for a year after failing his Amherst College entrance exam. 

As the “Hilltoppers” athletic team name suggests, St. J Academy occupies a lofty ridgeline of the Caledonia County town of St. Johnsbury. Of equal high altitude and a short distance north on Main Street are two beautiful buildings, Atheneaum Library and the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium. Large, beautiful, 19th century churches intersperse the real estate along Main Street. All were funded (through direct philanthropy or indirectly via employees) in large part with money from the Fairbanks family and its main enterprise, the precision manufacturing concern that to this day remains the town’s largest employer. 

This first-person account by GOP Senate candidate J.T. Dodge of Newbury – who is not a ‘local boy’ – describes what happens when a single person stands up alone for what he believes are his civil rights against the wishes of local school, town, and police authorities.

By J.T. Dodge

A week prior to the election, I found myself out sign waving alone in Saint Johnsbury. I made my way to the triangle of land in front of the Saint Johnsbury Academy (SJA). I was getting an amazing response. I mean it. 

This spot appeared to be better than the other spots. I was seeing all sorts of smiling and waving, beeping, and silly faces. It was fun, I admit it. About twenty to twenty-five minutes into my sign-wave campaigning, I was unexpectedly approached by a woman who identified herself as a Dean. (Later, I attempted to look up her name, but I wasn’t able to find her face in the sea of SJA Deans.)

She said I was not allowed on the triangle as the school (SJA) did not want there to be an assumption, by the public, of affiliation (many nonprofits need to remain explicitly out of politics in most cases). I responded by letting her know that this piece of land is listed in the tax records as a “right of way” and that she didn’t have the authority to force me to leave. 

She then restated that I needed to leave. I informed her that we were in a difficult situation because I was not going to leave. I then pointed at some police officers sitting in an SUV across the road. I told her she should go put this in the hands of the police because we wouldn’t be able to resolve this with her authority. 

She walked to the police and explained, then she walked back over to the school and went inside.

A moment later, two uniformed police officers exited a city police SUV and walked over to me from where they were parked on the western side in a parking lot there (20 Theodore Roosevelt Highway). I didn’t get the officers’ names, but the one who did the talking asked me what I was up to. 

I told him that I am campaigning and that this sign wave has been the most positive reaction that I have experienced. It’s valuable, I told him, when there is a many-year incumbent sitting in the Senate seat and most folks have no idea who I am as the challenger. I added that I knew my rights, and this is a right of way. I told them that they do not have the right to remove me, as it appears that they do not own the land that I am standing on, per the public tax records. 

The officer posed the question, “If there was someone on my land, what would I do?” I explained that my land is legally posted, so I would ask the visitor to leave based on the legality of my “No Trespassing” signs clearly posted. I further asked respectfully but with a tone of moderate indignance, “Where are the signs saying no candidates for public office?” They were reasonable and explained that they would make a phone call to verify their next move. 

I assumed the call would have been to their chief. I cut it short and said, “Hey, maybe I can compromise right now; what if I stand on the painted white traffic triangle on the tip of the green out on the street?” They said it would be fine as long as I wasn’t disturbing traffic. So that’s what I did, and it satisfied the situation without further escalation. 

I stood on the painted white traffic triangle at the tip of the green, facing into town. I began waving and smiling, but immediately there was a different vibe. Folks weren’t very pleased to see me standing in the road. Rightly so! I didn’t feel safe. 

At that point, it was about 7 a.m., and I decided to get going to work. I told myself I would come back around 4 pm to do another campaign ‘sign wave’, to smile and wave at local folks going to pick up their children from school and coming home from work.

I arrived back around 4 p.m. and immediately stood on the road in the painted triangle in the same location. And again, it felt unsafe, so I backed up and stepped up to the point of the green. 

Everything was going well until John Lenzini (second Head Master at SJA) and his security guard came out to me, demanding that I leave the premises because, in his words, the police had already told me to stay off the triangle. 

I reminded him that he didn’t know what conversation took place between the police and me. I asked for Mr. Lenzini’s credentials, as he was making a legal demand of me. He stated his name, but to be honest, I had never heard of him. I asked for proof that he had the right to “expel me” (the word later used on the front page of the local daily newspaper, the Caledonian-Record), describing their legal right to remove me from the spot, by utilizing law enforcement. 

They both laughed a belly laugh, and Lenzini said, “That’s not how this works.” The security guard at Lenzini was a little bit aggressive. He puffed up his chest and acted like he was waiting for me to do something disruptive. I didn’t. I should add that It was stated in one of the Caledonian-Record interviews, that there was a note of potential  danger in my actions, which he emphasized by ending his sentence with the phrase, “in times like this.” That comment made it sound like people should be afraid of me, the relatively unknown candidate waving and smiling at traffic. 

Lenzini’s security guard got aggressive by entering my personal space. Not wanting him to be physical with me, I stepped off the green triangle onto the pavement, where a white-painted triangle was. I’d been feeling pretty good, with a calm, steady heartbeat, but when the guard approached, my heart began to beat quite quickly, and I knew it was time to walk away, lest I say something I’d later regret. I turned away from him and crossed to the sidewalk in front of SJA. 

The security guard started making fun of me because of my campaign, then moved to the sidewalk and blocked my way. I reminded him that SJA doesn’t own the sidewalk. Lenzini remained on the phone in the right-of-way triangle for this. I’ll note he was on town land while he paced back and forth with his phone to his ear. I believe he was calling the police.

After a moment, the guard gave me the business. I exited his confrontation and turned to smile and wave at a few cars with my campaign sign. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable with him around me anymore and he should let me be. I waved at cars for another few minutes from the point of the triangle facing downtown Saint Johnsbury, on Upper Main Street, then left to go home as it was getting dark at this point.

When I got home, one of the city officers, I believe Officer Garrish, called me. The call went like this: He introduced himself as an officer in Saint Johnsbury, and he told me that SJA had registered a “no-trespass order” on me and that if I step on ANY SJA land from here forward, I will be charged with “Unlawful Trespass.” 

I asked him if he had checked who owned the land before doing this, but he just ignored me and said that if I stepped on any Saint Johnsbury Academy property in the future, I would be charged. And at this point, I repeated my question twice more while he also repeated his statement. I asked him one last time, and he said “No.” He hadn’t verified the ownership of the property, and he abruptly hung up on me when I told him that I would be “back tomorrow morning, on the point of that right of way.” 

I decided not to return in the morning. Instead, I chose to call Chief Tim Page to find out if he had verified the ownership of the “Triangle” before he used the color of law to remove me. He took a moment to tell me that he disagreed with what I was doing. It turned into a stern, somewhat disrespectful lecture. 

I asked again if he had verified the ownership of the land. He said, “Yes, I did.” I asked him how. He said that he called the town manager, Chad Whitehead, and SJA owned it. My next thought was, “Why would he ask the town manager about land ownership?” Why didn’t he verify by going to the person hired for questions like this, the town clerk? 

My next endeavor was to go down to the Saint Johnsbury Town office at 51 Depot Square and attempt to look up the records and validate my belief that I was able to legally be on “the triangle.”

The following day, I arrived at the Town Office at 51 Depot Square with my spare phone as an audio recorder. I didn’t want to miss a thing, as I know that if my heart rate elevates, I might miss something, and if I need to quote someone, I want to be correct. As a candidate and citizen who has irritated a powerful school, or a municipal government, I just wanted to tread carefully and deliberately. I see my vulnerability in this circle, but I and the people of Saint Johnsbury, Vermont, have individual rights that should be upheld by the city police and not violated. 

I went inside to the desk and asked for the town assessor’s office. The assessor wasn’t there  but Town Manager Whitehead was helpfully standing out in front of what I believe to be his office.

I told him who I was, and he acknowledged that he knew who I was. I went on to say that I wanted to find out who actually owned the property because I wanted to clear my name. And it worried me because SJA owns so much of the city of Saint Johnsbury that I may one day inadvertently step on their vast number of properties in the city. What’s more, it didn’t seem right or fair to me. And how many times over the years have candidates been denied access to property that the academy simply does not own (the right of way’s peripheral border curb)? 

I told him they registered my name with the police office: “There has been something, I’m just going off of memory, it was years ago when they put the sign in the middle of that in there, I remember them having a claim that they somehow owned that, and I don’t know if they have anything that backs that up.” It’s never been a thing that… We haven’t had any interest in exploring because we don’t need to. The utilities go all the way around that triangle. So when they (SJA) say that they own it, I’m like O.K.” (pause) ”…if we really had a reason to own it, if we needed to own it…” (My transcription is interrupted there, but this is nearly verbatim.) I thanked him for his time, and he gave me directions downstairs to the city clerk’s office.

I took the elevator back down to the first floor to visit Dianne (assistant to the assessor) and hopefully review records. I introduced myself and asked for some help locating a land ownership record. I explained that I was at one time familiar with the system that is used to look through the cards back in the record vault, but it has been a long time, and I felt as if I would need some guidance to get started on my research. 

It was first suggested that I look online for the records. I explained that I had already done this and there are no ownership details on the online record, just “right of way.” (This was what I initially looked at to verify if I was able to legally stand on the triangle.). She said, “Like I told the Caledonian-Record and the others, you’re probably going to have to go back a hundred years, and you’re probably not going to find anything.” 

I told her, “I’d like to look.” She continued, “like all the other little pieces of land, it could be owned by the town, it could be owned by the state because route 5a goes through there and Route 2 goes there”. I reminded her that this was important to me because the police have my name registered and I needed to get that cleared up. She said I could look at the town website, and I again reminded her that I looked at that and it doesn’t show any ownership. “So who do I speak to now?” I said. At this point, she said, “Then find the last deed and go from book and page from there.” I persisted, “OK, where would I find the deed?” Here she answered, “There isn’t going to be one, that’s what I’m trying to tell you.” 

“Oh, I don’t understand that because I’m not a real estate person,” I stated.

“It’s one of those pieces of land that probably just ended up there, and finding out who the actual owner is is like finding a needle in a haystack.”

“I know and I’m one of those people,” I said.

She continued, “And I can’t even give you a starting point on where to begin to look for it, because I wouldn’t know where to look, you know, either the town of Saint J., Saint J. Academy, or the State of Vermont, and pulling up any of those is going to produce a thousand plus records.”

“So where do I find those records?” I asked firmly.

She paused and said in an annoyed tone, “Feel free to come into the vault.” I followed her back there, and along the way, she was fairly forceful that she did not have time to sit and help me and point me to the “S” cards only. She mentioned that it might be easier for me to go to the VTRANS and ask them. She suggested it could save me some time. After seeing all the cards, I told her I would do that, but to be patient with me, in case they don’t give me a clear answer. I reminded her that I’d be back to review the cards.

I went down the road a few miles and spoke with the VTRANS folks. 

I told them where it was and how hard it was for me to find the land record. I asked them if they knew anything about the ownership. They said that this was not their property and that this would be 100% the town clerk’s office.

Instead of going back to the clerk’s office, I reached out to a local friend who was a former teacher for 30 years at SJA. He then directed me to another man who is also a Saint Johnsbury resident, a former instructor at SJA for 30 years as well, and a long-time surveyor in the area. His name is Andy Dussault (pronounced “do-so”), and he owns “Dussault Surveyors.” 

I explained the situation to him, and he said that he had been following along. Further, he believed there was more to this, and this is the type of work that he really enjoys. 

Mr. Dussault was able to locate the records and show that if I was standing where I say I was, I was not on SJA property, but rather, town property. 

He went on to explain that on the SJA side of the triangle, in the 1890s, the road was transitioned from a three-rod road to a four-rod road. A rod is 16.5 feet long. This means that the former fountain’s outer edge was partially in the way when it was present. Additionally, the record shows that I was clearly not on their land, and they had no right to call the police on me to enforce a trespass order. 

They knew what land they owned, and they knew what they didn’t own, in my opinion. It’s important to note here that the police needed probable cause to remove me and threaten me with a charge. Clearly, “probable cause” was required for the police to remove a campaigning candidate and threaten them with trespass if they returned. To keep the candidate’s name on file is wrong if they hadn’t verified that SJA owned the land I was standing on. 

Mr. Dussault, who was, in my opinion, hurt when the Headmaster decided not to meet with him on my behalf, to sort this out in a proper and upfront way. She turned down the request to meet after the survey maps landed on the front page of the Caledonian-Record, in response to a very weak old quit claim deed from 1895 that has the name Fairbanks on it. It is not a sufficient record to prove that the land is theirs and that I was on their property. The reality is that they own a much smaller triangle of land on the interior of the right of way.

The Headmaster refused to meet with Mr. Dussault to clear up my legal issue.  

This leads me to consider seeking further remedy, starting with a conversation about the best practice of having “probable cause” when the source that Chief Page used to verify ownership of the land says he doesn’t know who owns it. I have the documents to prove my point here and clear my name and clear up the ownership assumption that has existed in front of SJA for many years.

I called Chief Page on the day of the general election and told him that I would be defying his trespass order on election day. I told him he should know because he doesn’t have land ownership validation, and removing me or pressing charges could leave him in a bad legal spot. 

He yelled at me for a moment or two, then stated that I could go ahead and do it. He told me he didn’t like what I was doing. I responded by telling him that I was attempting something positive with this campaign and that I wasn’t the one who called him to enforce the law on me. He angrily hung up before he heard what I had to say about my campaign.

I held to my word and stood out on the triangle for about 45 minutes and streamed it to the internet. This was so that if  I was interrupted or removed by SJA staff or SJ police, I could prove my behavior was within the law.

The author is a climate activist, Republican/Libertarian, and self-employed resident of Newbury. He lost the Caledonia County state senate election last Tuesday to incumbent Democrat Jane Kitchel.

Categories: Local government

15 replies »

  1. Wow, Mr. JT Dodge-very interesting story and sad! I am thrilled and proud of your ‘detective’ & persistent work to find the truth. The Dems/Progs have won so much of their wishes here in VT that they think they can just push us around and even crush those of us on the Right. Or just perhaps there are a huge number of people out there who are control-freaks and/or just can’t be bothered to help someone. The school admins were clearly biased. Plus police must stop being bullies. We need police but not to act like that. Oh my–how dare we question them! Something drastic must be done.

  2. More & more of this will be happening until, tragically yet INEVITABLY, people begin to literally get murdered by those citizens now empowered to believe that peaceful assembly & freedom of speech & expression are only the freedoms entitled to SOME of us.

    Only yesterday (I believe) Senator E. Warren (D) reiterated the methodology of her leftist counterparts such as Chuck Schumer (D) & Maxine Waters (D) when she directed democrats to “get aggressive” with republicans.

    This is an abomination & in violation of the US Constitution, but we all are at fault for allowing the nation to degrade in front of our very eyes through our collective apathy & general disinterest in current affairs. We now shall all fall together as we reap what we have allowed to be sown here in terms of governmental corruption & media propaganda & authoritarianism – together. NO ONE will be getting out of here unscathed. Eventually, the very few who shall lead you will come for you as well.

    The State of “Freedom and Unity” took its last dying breath last Tuesday. Let’s see how much longer our neighbor “Live Free Or Die” survives…..

  3. If SJA was worried about appearances that might suggest partisan activity on their part, all they needed to do was make it clear that any and all candidates would be welcome to stand on their land and wave. That would be in the spirit of the First Amendment, which (one would hope) is something taught in their history and civics classes.

  4. Way to go JT 👍🏻

    I have similar scenarios such as this, which I just had to let it go, not worth the struggle or time to deal with such fools.

    But it’s becoming more essential to address this systemic problem all across the land and start to hold people accountable.
    Such as in a game: the NPC (non player character) are programed for certain functions only, When you disrupt them, they get agitated, they threaten, potentially incarcerate or cancel you out. They have no logic or sense, they will hate, refuse and react hastily, they are manipulated and live in fear.

    Soon due to potential restrictions on our amendments, such actions, or expressions and comentaries may be considered “hate crimes”, to further limit our speech and concerns and further violating our 1st amendment rights.

    Intelligent approaches, law suits and protests.

    Freedom and unity is definitely collapsing in Vermont, I’d like to think there is still hope.

    Stay strong !!

  5. Arnold’s Park is at the north end of Main St., and just beyond that, at the top of Hastings St., there is another one of those triangles of land surrounded by streets that is presumably public property. This latter in particular was peppered with the little candidate lawn type signs. One day a couple of weeks ago all the signs disappeared. I don’t read the Caledonian Record so I was unaware of J.T.’s run-ins at the time. Now I suspect that they were cleared out so J.T. couldn’t make the argument that if the signs could be on public property, why couldn’t he be on public property holding a sign.

    St. J. Academy used to have excellent leadership, now it is just another Woke cesspool. I’m also disheartened by the actions of the Police, but then they did, a few years ago, kneel down before a local rabble of of BLM protesters.

    The Northeast Kingdom was one of the last holdouts of sanity in Vermont. Now, especially after the recent election, the Democrat/Leftist/Progressive/Socialist plague is completing their suffocation of Vermont.

    • Democratic gerrymandering threatens the situation in the NEK.
      Meanwhile, Mr. Dodge and Mr. Dussault are to be thanked.

  6. Being that this was SJA the “head master” should have been referred to as “birthing administrator” or “non birthing administrator”

  7. Bullies are everywhere as proved by SJA and the chief of police. Kudos to Mr. Dodge for doing what was required – standing up to them. What seems most odd about this story is the chief saying he didn’t like what Dodge was doing. Who cares what he likes or not? The law is based on statutes and ordinances, not his likes and dislikes. No doubt Chief Page opposes defunding police, so he may want to stop behaving in a manner that begs for it.

  8. God bless you Mr. Dodge. Our Lord is surely pleased and the Holy Ghost is with you every step of the way. St Johnsbury, as many cities and towns in Vermont, are merely shells of what they once were and the decline started many years ago. Those who have a direct hand in the decline are facing judgement regardless of their haughty, faux authority. The more uncivilized, the more disrespectful, the more undignified they act toward moral people, shows their true identity and dark spirit. We know who our enemies are as they expose themselves daily with seemingly no consequence. The universe does not work that way. The boomerang is coming upon them and they cannot escape the impact. They shall reap what they sow.

  9. Thank you JT for standing up for not only your constitutional rights but the constitutional rights of everyone in Vermont and across America.

    I post a lot of videos from first amendment auditors who purposely travel the country to expose these very dirty deeds from law enforcement that should be protecting us from these violations of our constitution.

    And you know after posting these videos I laugh at a lot of the comments that are left by people who say that these people out taking videos of police doing their dirty deeds are really troublemakers…

    JT I don’t consider you a troublemaker for standing up for your constitutional rights and exposing the dirty deeds of law enforcement that would be involved and such tyrannical moves.

    It’s very sad to see the number of police officers that either ignore or just don’t understand what our constitutional rights are about.

    And it’s really sad when you reach out to the people that should be willing to help you and fight for your rights and instead you are yelled at and hung up on by them.

    I have an ongoing situation with the Rutland city police… It’s a case in which I was assaulted and I have a video of it and the police don’t want to do a darn thing about it…

    When I called to have a conversation with leadership in the Rutland police department you are yelled at and hung up on.. at first I thought maybe it was just me but after attending two police commission meetings now I see that other people have received the same crude rude treatment from the very people that should be protecting them.

    Believe me you get a queasy feeling in your stomach when you stand in front of a police commission meeting and you are yelled at by the police chief and the head of the commission makes crazy statements to you.

    And the ironic thing is that neither of these people have viewed the video that I submitted of the assault that took place while they continue to make false denials about it.

    I’m sure you still support our police as I do but it’s scary when you run into some of them who do not enforce your rights.

    Again thanks JT for having guts enough to stand up and speak out…

    I would encourage everyone to look up first amendment audits and see what takes place across America every day at the hands of police departments and police heads who have no clue what constitutional rights you can practice and are ready to steal them from you..

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