LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon have agreed to waive that controversial confidentiality clause contained in Gordon’s separation agreement.
But it appears that will not put an end to questions surrounding Gordon’s departure.
Gordon abruptly quit in January and the governor had no clear explanation when asked why he left.
The discovery that he was paid $155,000 and given a separation agreement that didn’t allow either party to talk to anyone about the reason behind the departure lead some Republicans to refer to the cash as “hush money.”
On Thursday morning, Gov. Whitmer’s office told News 8 the governor and Gordon agreed to waive the agreement to keep quiet about what led to his departure.
Gordon then sent a letter to Michigan’s House Oversight Committee that said he would not testify before the body.
In the letter that was generally complementary of Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic, Gordon wrote, “On occasion, there were robust conversations about policy issues where reasonable people could disagree and did.”
“Gov. Whitmer deserves a health director with whom she is comfortable,” he continued. “I tendered my resignation, and she accepted it. I am happy now to be a private citizen, see my family, and contribute to our country in new ways. I submit this letter in lieu of testimony.”
That last line, “in lieu of testimony,” caught the eye of the House Oversight Committee chair and Wayland Republican Rep. Steven Johnson, who issued a statement saying he would seek subpoena powers to compel the former director to speak. Johnson’s release says, in part, “Having the ability to speak openly is only worthwhile if one will actually speak. The House Oversight Committee hopes that a subpoena will not be necessary and that Director Gordon will voluntarily testify, but we are taking the proper steps to subpoena Director Gordon if necessary.”
Other lawmakers are pursuing other avenues to see that similar separation agreements can’t be used in the future.
Gov. Whitmer has not yet commented directly on the new revelations.
Below is the full text from Robert Gordon’s letter to the House Oversight Committee:
“My professional life has been dedicated to public service.From January 2019 to January 2021, I was grateful to serve Michigan and Governor Whitmer as Director of the Department of Health and Human Services. During the worst pandemic in a century, under Governor Whitmer’s leadership, we stayed focused on doing the right things by acting quickly, following the science, and listening to medical experts. I appreciated Governor Whitmer’s statement that “Robert Gordon and his team were an incredibly important part of our response, and I appreciated his service to our state.” For the sake of greater transparency, the Governor’s Office and I have agreed to waive the confidentiality provision in my separation agreement.
Extensive policy discussions are one reason that Michigan’s pandemic response has been strong. Michigan’s November 15 Pause to Save Lives, for example,was developed and then extended through days of deliberation. On occasion, there were robust conversations about policy issues where reasonable people could disagree and did. This was healthy: the stakes were life and death, and different people have different roles. Michigan was hit hard by COVID early, and initially had the third highest fatality rate in the nation. But different perspectives can produce strong outcomes. Michigan has fallen to 21st in deaths per capita.
The evidence is clear that Governor Whitmer’s actions have saved thousands of lives. I was honored to play a part in that work. Governor Whitmer deserves a health director with whom she is comfortable. I tendered my resignation, and she accepted it. I am happy now to be a private citizen, see my family, and contribute to our country in new ways. I submit this letter in lieu of testimony.”