LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was asked Tuesday about claims that the state’s former health director was given “hush money” when he abruptly resigned from his position in January.
Robert Gordon resigned Jan. 22, releasing a tweet that said, simply, “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.”
Four days later, Whitmer was asked at a COVID-19 briefing about her relationship with Gordon, considering her announcement of a new director hardly mentioned him at all.
“I don’t think I have anything to add with regard to my comments about the former director,” Whitmer said on Jan. 26. “I’ve shared with you that I wish him well. I’m grateful for his leadership, and we’ve got a wonderful new director at the apartment, so we’re going to continue to forge ahead here.”
Gordon is receiving more than $155,000 as part of a separation agreement, state reports revealed.
The agreement called for Gordon to drop all claims against the state, though it was not immediately clear what claims may have been included. It also promises legal assistance in matters relating to actions he took while director.
The agreement for $155,506.05 is dated Feb. 22. It’s signed by Gordon and Mark Totten, chief legal counsel for Whitmer.
Whitmer responds to separation agreement
Whitmer was asked Tuesday (March 2) Gordon’s separation agreement.
“Is it common practice to pay state employees upwards of $150,000 after that?” Whitmer was asked.
The governor first said the pandemic has been challenging for everyone, including government employees. She said Gordon and his team were instrumental in the way Michigan battled COVID-19, saving thousands of lives.
“Robert Gordon and his team were an incredible important part of our response, and I appreciated his service to our state,” Whitmer said.
She said separation agreements are common in the public and private sectors when someone in a leadership position leaves an organization. But she said due to the nature of the agreement, there isn’t much more she can disclose.
“There were not any improprieties with Director Gordon’s work,” Whitmer said. “It’s simply that he tendered his resignation, and I accepted it, and I appointed a new director, Elizabeth Hertel, who has hit the ground running. She’s doing incredible work, and she needed to put her own team together at MDHHS so that we can stay laser focused on ramping up our vaccine effort and end this pandemic and get back to life as normal sooner.
“So I am going to have to respect the nature of the separation agreement, but I’ll say that I did really appreciate Robert’s work, and I wish him well in the future.”
Michigan Republicans allege the money given to Gordon was “hush money,” but Whitmer said that’s not the case.
“I explained the nature of a separation agreement,” Whitmer said. “We have been through a lot over the last year. It has taken a toll. The former director resigned, I accepted it and we are continuing to move forward because we’ve got a lot of tough work to do.”
“Was it hush money?” a reporter asked directly.
“I really bristle at that characterization,” Whitmer said. “The nature of a separation agreement when someone in a leadership position leaves is that there are terms to it and you can’t share every term to it, and that’s simply what it is.”