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Gov. Whitmer tightlipped over abrupt exit, alleged payout of ex-health director amid calls for probe

A hush-hush agreement between Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration and her now former state health department director is drawing a lot of scrutiny.

Especially so after Republicans in the state are calling for an investigation into the Democratic governor’s handling of nursing homes and eldercare facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services until his abrupt resignation on January 22, signed a confidentiality agreement last month that reportedly includes a $155,506 separation payout, according to The Detroit News.

Gordon announced his departure via Twitter.

Gov. Whitmer has been mum on why Gordon, seen as “a central figure in the state’s response to COVID-19,” suddenly stepped down, and the deal requires both sides to maintain confidentiality about the circumstances leading up to his departure, the newspaper reported.

As the article alluded, Gordon’s exit does not appear to have been “amicable.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, within 20 minutes of Gordan’s tweet, Whitmer announced that she selected Elizabeth Hertel, the department’s senior chief deputy director for administration, to replace him.

“Robert Gordon has resigned from his position, and the governor has accepted his resignation,” said the press release announcing Hertel’s promotion.

The amount being paid to Gordon reportedly represents nine months of salary and health benefits. In return, he released the state from any potential legal claims.

And with the deal, Whitmer’s administration now says that it can’t comment further on the personnel matter because of the terms of the agreement.

Talk about convenience.

“Executive separation agreements that include confidentiality terms and release of claims are fairly standard practice,” Whitmer’s spokesman Robert Leddy said.

Republican state Rep. Matt Hall, said he was “stunned” by the separation agreement, the Detroit News reported.

The former chairman of the Michigan House Oversight Committee expressed grave concerns about the use of taxpayers funds to hide the details behind Gordon’s exit.

“The people of Michigan deserve to know what was going on here,” he said.

Ted Goodman, spokesman for the Michigan GOP, told Fox News in a statement that Gordon “played an instrumental role in the state’s COVID-19 response.”

“Michigan taxpayers deserve to know the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Mr. Gordon in the middle of a public health crisis. Why is Gov. Whitmer refusing to explain this secret deal?” Goodman asked.

State Rep. Steve Johnson also weighed in.

“We’re still investigating the things the Whitmer Administration has done during COVID in plain sight, when we find out about a secret payoff behind closed doors,” the chair of the Michigan House Oversight Committee told Fox News in a statement. “While it doesn’t surprise me, the deception is shocking and shows how badly this Administration needs oversight so they can be held to account.”

Last week, a letter from state Sen. Jim Runestad, signed by seven fellow Republican state senators, called on acting U.S. Attorney General Monty Wilkinson and Michigan Attorney General Nessel, a Democrat, to look into Whitmer’s actions that likely led to increased nursing home deaths.

With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo under fire for reportedly concealing the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes after a decree calling on these facilities to take in positive patients, Whitmer appears to have had a similar policy.

“Gov. Whitmer’s regional hub policy placed patients with and without COVID-19 in the same facilities and may have exacerbated the death toll in those facilities,” said a statement from Runestad earlier in the week.

“Questions remain regarding the accuracy of data, compliance with CDC guidelines and compliance with our state’s Freedom of Information Act. There is a critical need for a full investigation into these matters,” he added.

Tom Tillison
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