LANSING, Mich. — The state’s health department acknowledged its only severance agreement given out with a confidentiality clause since 2016 was the $155,000 payout to ex-director Robert Gordon, according to records obtained by 7 Action News.
The revelation comes after Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s repeated efforts to downplay two severance payments doled out to departing lieutenants, repeatedly claiming that severance deals “are used often in the public and private sector.”
“I’m very surprised, given that the Governor says these are routine, they’re used all the time,” said Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), a frequent critic of Whitmer’s COVID-19 orders and MDHHS policy in general.
The MDHHS review covers the first two plus years of the Whitmer administration as well as the last three years of Rick Snyder's second term in office.
Reached today, Whitmer press secretary Bobby Leddy said that Governor was not talking specifically about confidentiality clauses when she called the deals “common” and added that the state legislature has recently come under scrutiny for using them too.
Gordon, the former head of the Department of Health and Human Services, received his severance agreement in February after abruptly stepping down as MDHHS director in January. He gave no reason for his departure.
Only after Gordon’s severance came to light was it revealed that former Unemployment Insurance Agency director Steve Gray also left with a severance, his valued at $86,000, when he departed in 2020. His payment also came with a confidentiality clause.
Both Gordon and Gray’s departments have been embroiled in controversies since COVID-19 struck. At the Department of Health and Human Services, Whitmer’s shutdown orders and her policy to transport COVID-19 positive patients to nursing homes was frequently criticized.
At the Unemployment Insurance Agency, Gray and his team often took months to pay out benefits to those laid off.
Runestad says Whitmer’s defense of the plans doesn’t square with her promises to improve transparency, both as a senator and later as a candidate for governor.
“For (Whitmer and Gordon) to collude together to have this hush money program set up so he doesn’t have to talk about any of the things that we’re now seeing are huge in terms of mismanagement,” he said, “I think it’s a terrible example.”
Whitmer has denied suggestions that the severance payouts were hush money.
On Friday, amidst pressure from Republican lawmakers to ban the practice of using non-disclosure agreements, Whitmer issued a directive that protected the practice going forward.