Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) reportedly paid former state health department director, Robert Gordon, over $150,000 to stay quiet about his abrupt departure.
The Detroit News reported Gordon, whose surprise resignation occurred in January, took home “$155,506 in a separation deal that also required the two sides to maintain confidentiality about the circumstances that led” to him leaving:
On Feb. 22, one month after Gordon resigned without explanation, he and Mark Totten, Whitmer’s chief lawyer, signed the four-page agreement. The state agreed to pay Gordon a total that represents nine months of salary and health benefits, and he released the state from any potential legal claims.
The agreement is the clearest evidence yet that the split between Gordon, a central figure in the state’s response to COVID-19, and Whitmer was not amicable, and it shows that the Democratic administration used taxpayer funds to ease his departure.
Gordon and Whitmer’s aides both agreed not to discuss publicly his leaving “in the interest of protecting deliberations among government officials,” the paper reported, citing the document obtained through a freedom of information act request.
“In response to any inquiries from prospective employers, employer will state that employee voluntarily resigned,” the agreement said.
In January, Whitmer awkwardly tiptoed through questions about Gordon’s resignation, which he announced on Twitter:
Today, I am resigning from the Whitmer Administration. It's been an honor to serve alongside wonderful colleagues. I look forward to the next chapter.
— Robert Gordon (@robertmgordon) January 22, 2021
“Today, I am resigning from the Whitmer Administration,” Gordon wrote on a Friday afternoon.
“It’s been an honor to serve alongside wonderful colleagues,” he continued, without thanking or acknowledging the governor.
“I look forward to the next chapter.”
WDIV said Gordon “abruptly” left.
The next week, Whitmer struggled to answer questions about the former influential bureaucrat who played a pivotal role in the state’s coronavirus lockdown strategy and placing virus-infected patients in nursing homes with elderly, otherwise healthy residents.
The governor was asked for “specifics” and whether she asked for Gordon’s resignation, NBC 25 reported.
While appearing to read from notes, Whitmer said, “I want to begin by thanking Robert Gordon and [new] Director [Elizabeth] Hertel did as well. To lead this department in unimaginable circumstances, it has been grueling.”
She continued, “He worked hard to protect our public health,” before attempting to pivot to talk about Hertel.
But another reporter brought it back to the sudden resignation.
“Can you describe the relationship you had with Robert Gordon?” he said.
“I don’t think I have anything to add with regard to my comments about, you know, the former director. I shared with you that I wish him well. I’m grateful for his leadership and we’ve got a wonderful new director at the department,” Whitmer responded.
When a third reporter apologized for asking about Gordon again, Whitmer scoffed.
“Did you ask for Director Gordon’s resignation and was this expected at all?”
“I’ve answered that question. I think the only thing I would say is, you know, it’s been a grueling couple of years and changes in administrations happen,” she said.
“I wish Robert Gordon the very best. I truly do and I am incredibly grateful for the hard work and the way that he showed up every single day over these last two years,” Whitmer said.
“Mr. Robert Gordon was the state’s health director and played an instrumental role in the state’s COVID-19 response,” Ted Goodman, communications director for the Michigan Republican Party, said in a statement.
“Michigan taxpayers deserve to know the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Mr. Gordon in the middle of a public health crisis. Why is Gov. Whitmer refusing to explain this secret deal?” Goodman said.