Gov. Whitmer: 'I have said all I am going to say' on health director Gordon's departure

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declined Friday to provide more information about the departure of her former state health director Robert Gordon  despite waiving the confidentiality requirement in his separation agreement.

During a press briefing, Whitmer said her administration had "nothing to hide." But when asked about the reasons that led to Gordon's Jan. 22 resignation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she refused.

"I have said all I am going to say about Director Gordon’s departure," the governor said. "We have stayed focused on the task at hand."

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

A day earlier, Whitmer's administration and Gordon revealed they had agreed to drop the non-disclosure provision of his controversial separation deal, which has been the subject of criticism from state lawmakers. The agreement involved the state paying $155,506 to Gordon and the two sides vowing to maintain confidentiality about the circumstances that led to his departure on the day he signed an epidemic order to allow indoor dining at restaurants to resume.

Gordon declined Thursday a request from the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee that he appear before the panel at a future date to further explain his resignation.

Gordon didn't specify in his letter to Oversight Chairman Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, what disagreements had occurred among top health officials but said there had been "robust conversations" on occasion.

"This was healthy: the stakes were life and death, and different people have different roles," Gordon wrote. "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."

In her first press conference since the confidentiality pledge was dropped, Whitmer said transparency is important.

"Director Gordon resigned, and I accepted the resignation and thanked him for his service and appointed a new director," she said.

The governor added that there are "some people" who would rather spend their time talking about "personnel issues" while her administration is focused on moving forward in the fight against COVID-19.

"We’ve shared a lot of information," Whitmer said.

The Detroit News obtained the agreement with Gordon through open records requests on March 1. Since Gordon's deal was released, Whitmer's administration, the House and Senate have acknowledged more than 30 agreements with departing staff over the last five years involving nearly $1 million.