Whitmer declines to discuss health director’s exit despite end of confidentiality deal

The governor was asked twice about Robert Gordon’s departure, but she declined to provide any specifics
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds a press conference on COVID-19.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds a press conference on COVID-19.(source: State of Michigan)
Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 2:41 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer again declined to discuss the reasons for the former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director’s departure despite the end of a confidentiality agreement.

Robert Gordon abruptly resigned as head of the state health department on Jan. 22, hours after he issued an order allowing restaurants around Michigan to reopen for indoor dining after a two-month closure. He signed a separation agreement about a month later.

That agreement provided Gordon with a $155,000 payout and included a clause prohibiting him and Whitmer from discussing the specific reasons why he resigned. Whitmer announced this week that she and Gordon agreed to waive the confidentiality clause.

However, Gordon turned down a request to testify before the House Oversight Committee and Whitmer again declined to discuss why Gordon left after two separate questions from reporters during a press conference Friday morning.

Whitmer said she agreed to waive the confidentiality clause “in the interest of greater transparency.” But she again repeated her stance that Gordon resigned, she accepted his resignation and appointed Elizabeth Hertel to take his place leading the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“I know that there are some people -- the other side of the aisle in particular -- who would rather spend their time talking about personnel issues which, you know, that’s their choice. They can continue looking backward but we are going to stay focused on moving forward, because we are still in the middle of a global pandemic,” Whitmer said.

She called on lawmakers to remain focused on battling COVID-19 by providing the resources that schools, organizations and residents need. She referenced spending billions of federal COVID-19 relief dollars sent to Michigan, which she and lawmakers are negotiating.

“We’ve got to stay focused on the job at hand and keeping people safe and resuming safely and getting the tools we need to do that successfully,” Whitmer said. “And I think I would welcome legislators to spend some energy in this space, because we’re deploying these dollars right now to ramp up our antigen testing, which is now necessary for our kids who want to participate in sports and necessary for a resumption of normal activities and normalcy.”

Later in the press conference, Whitmer expressed her appreciation for Hertel’s work leading the state health department over the past two months and again called on lawmakers to remove politics from public health.

“We’ve shared a lot of information and I think it’s time for us to stay focused on the next task at hand, which is continuing to battle this virus,” Whitmer said.

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