Whitmer orders more transparency for separation agreements

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — After facing questions and criticism about the separation agreement between her office and former Michigan Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday laid out new guidelines about such deals.

The Gordon agreement was one of a few that have come to light. He received more than $155,000 in compensation. Both sides were prevented from talking about the circumstances of his sudden departure from MDHHS in January. That prompted some in the Republican-led Legislature to say the severance pay amounted to hush money.

The Democratic order on Friday issued an executive directive that says in part that “separation agreements cannot deny a party the right or opportunity to disclose the underlying facts and circumstances regarding unlawful workplace acts including discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, or fraud.” In other words: no gag orders.

The directive also says that the agreements can be released and the party involved would not be forced to deny the existence of such an agreement.

Any future separation agreements will be reviewed by the state’s attorney general before they are signed.

The directive is not enough for at least one Republican lawmaker:

“I will continue to push for remedies through the state budget and legislative process. This is still the same governor who paid ‘hush money’ to keep her former public health director and former unemployment agency director quiet in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic — and we still don’t know why,” Rep. Annette Glenn of Midland said in a statement.

Glenn is pushing to have language in each budget bill prohibiting such agreements and is also trying to have the governor’s office and the Legislature become subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

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