by Bruce Walker
After declining four previous requests to testify, former Michigan Director of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon was finally compelled to testify Thursday before the House Oversight Committee.
Gordon abruptly resigned his position in January, and signed a controversial nondisclosure agreement the following month that included a $155,506 buyout. The Oversight Committee issued Gordon a subpoena earlier this month, forcing him to appear before the committee.
The subpoena was the first issued by the Oversight Committee in 30 years, according to Rep. Patrick Outman, R-Six Lakes.
In short, Gordon told the committee he was given the option of resigning after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told him during a brief appearance on a teleconference meeting she was intending to relax some COVID-19 restrictions at the end of January. Gordon noted his opposition, and said Whitmer voiced her intention to move her policy in a direction different from Gordon’s policy recommendations.
Gordon said he was told he could resign by Mark Totten, the governor’s chief legal counsel, and it was left to the Michigan Attorney General’s office to negotiate the terms of his separation.
Gordon said he did not bring up the severance package, but was told by the attorney handling his separation such settlements were standard operating procedure to release the state from any legal claims. Gordon noted that, at the time he took the settlement and signed the nondisclosure agreement he was a private citizen who had left the state of Michigan’s employ a month previously.
Gordon’s testified before the committee via teleconference, and faced probing questions from committee members.
Outman, for example, noted such separation agreements as granted Gordon violate Michigan’s Constitution, unless the fired state employee has potential legal claims against the state.
Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, countered that Gordon may have stated he had no intention to sue immediately, but might exercise his right to sue the state in the future.
Since Gordon testified before the committee he had no intention of filing a wrongful termination suit against the governor’s administration, rendering his severance compensation unconstitutional, Gordon was asked if he would, if asked, return the money to the state.
Gordon stated the question was hypothetical, and he would not go down that path. He also noted it wasn’t incumbent upon his position to interpret Michigan’s constitutional law.
“Mr. Gordon, you claim that you voluntarily resigned,” Rep. Michelle Hoitenga, R-Manton, said. “I’ve never received a severance agreement a month after I quit a job,” she said.
“So to receive a severance agreement a month after you left suddenly and with no answers as to why you left, I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get to hear more today for the reasons you left.”
Committee Chair Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, noted Gordon had made it “abundantly clear that there was an amicable relationship between him and the governor, that he had no interests, no indication that he would sue the governor.”
Johnson continued: “We have to look at the taxpayers. That’s who we represent, and when we look at this deal, this was a month afterward, all right, the contract has ended. What did the taxpayers get? They lost $155,000, what did they get in return for it? At this committee hearing, what we were told was nothing.”
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.