Former Whitmer health chief confirms he quit over COVID differences
Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s former cabinet-level health chief confirmed Thursday that he left over differences about the state’s response to COVID-19. That was part of former Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon’s testimony before the state House Oversight Committee.
Gordon said he was asked by Whitmer to quit because she wanted to “go in a different direction.” That was at the same time the administration was easing some COVID restrictions.
“There were difficult conversations, differences of opinion, and those are matters that are appropriately confidential,” he said, “and so I thought it was a reasonable request.”
Gordon said the episode was difficult, but he would not criticize Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19.
“There are matters of black and white that arise from science, and there are matters of gray,” he said.
Much of the hearing focused on a $155,000 severance payment coupled with a non-disclosure agreement. Whitmer and Gordon agreed to waive the agreement as Gordon was subpoenaed by the committee.
The Republican chair of the oversight committee said he thinks the severance payment following the resignation may be unconstitutional. Representative Steven Johnson called it a bad deal for taxpayers regardless.
Johnson said the payout following Gordon’s departure appears to conflict with Article 11, Section 3 of the Michigan Constitution, which says:
“Neither the legislature nor any political subdivision of this state shall grant or authorize extra compensation to any public officer, agent of contractor after the service has been rendered or the contract entered into.”
“That’s the problem here, is we have a serious constitutional issue, and I want to get back to the taxpayer argument here because it’s my job to protect the taxpayers,” said Johnson, “and I guess I’m trying to figure out, do you think the $155,000 dollar payout was a good deal for taxpayers?”
Gordon said the agreement was presented to him by an assistant attorney general as a standard practice for the departure of a high-level official. Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office would neither confirm nor deny that was the case.
“Due to our professional ethical obligations, this office cannot reveal the nature of any legal advice we may have provided to the Governor’s office regarding this separation agreement,” said Nessel Press Secretary Lynsey Mukomel.