Gov. Whitmer dodges questions on health director's departure

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declined to say Monday whether she asked for the resignation of Robert Gordon, the former director of the state's Department of Health and Human Services.

During a press conference, Whitmer was repeatedly questioned by reporters about Gordon's abrupt departure, which was revealed Friday. At two points, she was directly asked if she requested his resignation.

"To lead this department in unimaginable circumstances, it has been grueling," Whitmer responded. "On behalf of all of the people of Michigan, I want to thank him for his service to our state. He worked hard to protect our public health."

Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

Whitmer appeared Monday with Elizabeth Hertel, whom she announced Friday would replace Gordon as director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The governor described Hertel as "incredibly qualified to step into a leadership role."

Moments after a reporter's initial question about Gordon, Whitmer was asked to describe her relationship with the former director, whom she appointed to lead the state's largest department in January 2019.

"I don't think I have anything to add with regard to my comments about the former director," Whitmer replied. "I shared with you that I wish him well. I am grateful for his leadership."

She was then asked again if she had requested Gordon's resignation or whether it was expected. She responded that she had "answered the question."

"Changes in administrations happen," Whitmer said. "I wish Robert Gordon the very best. I truly do."

Republicans slammed the Democratic governor for not specifically answering questions about the former director.

"Gov. Whitmer and her health department are refusing to answer questions and provide transparency for their decisions during the pandemic," said Tori Sachs, executive director of Michigan Rising Action.

Gordon has said little about his resignation, which he announced Friday afternoon on Twitter.

"It's been an honor to serve alongside wonderful colleagues," Gordon tweeted. "I look forward to the next chapter."

Within 20 minutes of Gordon's post, Whitmer's administration said Hertel would become the new director of the Department of Health and Human Services. Hertel had served as the department's senior chief deputy director for administration.