LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told Robert Gordon that she wanted a new Michigan Department of Health and Human Services chief and that he was given the opportunity to resign, so he did, Gordon told state lawmakers Thursday.
Gordon testified before the state House Oversight Committee after being subpoenaed last week.
Gordon indicated he always had an amicable relationship with the governor before she told him during a Jan. 22 video conference call with her and members of her staff that she was “grateful for (his) service” but that she thought it was time to go in “another direction.”
He acknowledged that as a political appointee, he served at the will of the governor. He said in that type of relationship, because the governor indicated she wanted something different, it was appropriate to resign.
While he admitted there were differences of opinion between him and the governor leading up to his resignation, he believed those differences were reasonable. He said he felt comfortable with all the MDHHS epidemic orders he signed.
“Anytime I was in disagreement with Gov. Whitmer, it was in one of those gray areas,” Gordon said.
While he said he “did not feel great in the moment” when asked to resign, he said he respected her decision.
“When I reflect and when I think back on my service, I’m very proud of my service. I have no regrets about serving Gov. Whitmer. I have no regrets about the advice I gave,” Gordon said. “I feel I fought the good fight, I ran the race and now I’m going to move on to other things.”
When Gordon left unexpectedly, questions immediately surfaced about why. Word then broke that he was paid $155,000 in severance and that he signed a nondisclosure agreement that didn’t allow him or Whitmer to comment on the circumstances about his departure. Republicans called it hush money. Even after the confidentiality clause was dropped, Whitmer and Gordon had not talked about what happened until the hearing.
Gordon testified that the confidentiality clause was described to him as boilerplate. When it started to become a point of contention in the public view, Gordon said, he reached out to the governor’s office to have it dropped because he thought it was a distraction. He also said that conversations between Whitmer and him would remain confidential as a matter of principle. The governor’s office, he said, agreed.
He said he never had any intention of suing the governor.
At issue for the Oversight Committee seemed to be whether the severance was constitutional. Gordon punted when repeatedly asked about it, indicating the question was outside his realm of expertise, though he did say the agreement seemed to him to be in line with the law.
Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, the committee chair, argued the agreement violated the state Constitution because it was signed after Gordon left and there was no threat of litigation.
“For me, it appears quite clear that the state can’t provide you any extra compensation,” Johnson said. “The only reason they could do that would be to release claims but in order to do that, you would actually have to have a claim.”
Others on the committee disagreed, saying there is a threat of a lawsuit if Gordon were to change his mind and that the agreement protects the state from the cost of litigation.