Michigan lawmakers want to get the bottom of a non-disclosure deal Governor Whitmer made with her former health director in which he received a $155,000 severance.
Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon abruptly resigned from his position on January 22. At a news conference days later, Whitmer would not say if Gordan left voluntarily or was fired.
In a January 22 email obtained by The Detroit News, sent 11 minutes before Gordan announced his resignation on social media, Whitmer’s chief legal counsel wrote to Gordan, “If you would like to discuss an executive separation agreement, please contact Assistant Attorney General Jeanmarie Miller, Department of Attorney General.” The state agreed to pay Gordon nine months of his $182,070 salary.
Under pressure, Whitmer and Gordan, announced they were waiving the non-disclosure agreement, reported The Detroit News on March 18.
Nursing Home Deaths?
News of the severance agreement comes five days after Michigan House and Senate Republicans called for an investigation into COVID-19 nursing home deaths. In a directive on April 22, the Whitmer Administration had offered nursing homes $5,000 for accepting recovering COVID-19 patients being released from hospitals.
Michigan House Oversight Chair, Rep. Steven Johnson (R – Wayland) says he is unfamiliar with the use of non-disclosure agreements with state government administrators who are fired or resign. “What is incredibly problematic is Dr. Gordon had a number of objectional issues we could see in plain sight,” Johnson told Health Care News. If what we can see in the middle of the day is pretty bad and he had to resign as it was, and now there is more to hide, $155,000 of taxpayer money, this reeks of a scandal.”
Johnson’s committee has been probing the nursing home deaths. “We’ve been asking for data to assert that Michigan did not do the same thing as New York and the health department has refused to testify. That makes us question what they are trying to hide. Does Director Gordon have information on nursing home deaths that would hurt the governor and is that why they paid him $155,000 to stay quiet?” asked Johnson.
Lockdown Pain and Suffering
As cases of COVID-19 ramped up, Whitmer imposed some of the strictest lockdown policies in the nation, with many measures still in effect. Lawsuits regarding the lockdown orders are circulating through state and federal courts. On October 2, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Whitmer was acting unconstitutionally under two state statutes. Whitmer then took action under the state’s public health code, of which Gordon played a large role.
“These are people who are making critical decisions that are destroying restaurants, gyms, and businesses all over the state,” said David Kallman, an attorney with the Great Lakes Justice Center whose firm is representing a chiropractor and parochial school parents in two lawsuits against the state. “Being secretive about why someone leaves their job feeds speculation,” said Kallman. ” If there was a difference in policy, that could be acceptable, but why not say it?”
Kallman told Health Care News what has added fuel to the fire is Whitmer’s refusal to release the science and data behind her policy decisions. “Now, with these departures of the top echelon of our public health system without any explanation, it just undermines the confidence in our public health system,” said Kallman
Johnson says legislators have been reviewing their legal options in light of the contract prohibiting Gordon from speaking. “We have floated the idea of inviting Director Gordon in, perhaps serving him with a subpoena if he refuses,” said Johnson
Kallman says the legislature has oversight responsibility and could even go into a closed session if there happens to be a legitimate reason for the non-disclosure. “But having an agreement because disclosure would be too sensitive to the governor, that would not be a valid reason,” said Kallman.
Meanwhile, Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido says he is ramping up his own investigation into Michigan’s nursing home deaths. At a March 10 news conference, Lucido said people will soon be able to file a report with police agencies throughout the state who know of someone who was exposed to COVID-19 at a nursing home and died while Whitmer’s policy was in place. While he was a member of the Michigan state legislator last year, Lucido introduced a bill that would have prohibited the transfer of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes, but Whitmer vetoed it.
A day after Lucido announced his efforts, Whitmer conducted an interview with WDIV – TV in a room where she is surrounded by posters of Michigan and a pillow with Anthony Fauci’s image on it. At the end of the interview, her dogs entered the picture which led to a few moments to discuss her pets.
The pushback against politicians who imposed some of the strictest lockdown orders, Whitmer in Michigan, Governors Andrew Cuomo in New York, and Gavin Newsom in California, is karma, states Jeffrey Tucker, in a March 2 blog post on the American Institute for Economic Research. While such falls could be for other reasons than the lockdowns, “the abusers of all sorts eventually pay a price for their egregious behavior, one way or another. The list of people who will experience career disruption for what they have done to our communities and our country is very long,” wrote Tucker.
AnneMarie Schieber (email@example.com) is the managing editor of Health Care News.
(photo courtesy, Michigan Rep. Steven Johnson)
(This article was updated March 18)