Whitmer refuses to answer questions about state health director's resignation

click to enlarge Former MDHHS director Robert Gordon, left, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. - STATE OF MICHIGAN
State of Michigan
Former MDHHS director Robert Gordon, left, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer dodged questions from reporters about Robert Gordon, the former state health department director who resigned last week.

Gordon announced his resignation as director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) on Friday in a tweet, a seemingly abrupt move that came just after the state announced it would allow indoor dining to resume at restaurants in February.

During a Zoom press conference on Monday, Whitmer was asked numerous questions about the nature of Gordon's resignation. Each time, Whitmer refused to elaborate, starting with a question about whether she requested his resignation.

"I want to thank Robert Gordon, [who led] this department in unimaginable circumstances," she said in response. "It has been grueling and on behalf of all the people in Michigan, and I want to thank him for his service to our state."

Whitmer then introduced Elizabeth Hertel, the former Senior Chief Deputy Director for Administration for MDHHS who she appointed on Friday to assume Gordon's former role.

Whitmer added, "We have much work to do. Much lies ahead of us, but because of the hard work of Robert Gordon these past few years and where Elizabeth is ready to take us, I am confident that we will continue to be a leader in this space."

When another reporter asked a follow-up question about her relationship with Gordon, Whitmer declined to comment.

"To add with regard to my comments about the former director, I've shared with you that I wish him well," she said. "I'm grateful for his leadership."

When another reporter asked if his resignation was expected, Whitmer responded, "I've answered that question."

"The only thing that I would would say is it's been a grueling couple of years and changes in administrations happen," Whitmer added. "I wish Robert Gordon the very best. I truly do, and I'm incredibly grateful for the hard work and the way that he showed up every single day over these last few years. It has been a long, impossible-to-imagine experience. I'm grateful that we had his leadership for two years, and I'm wishing him the very best of luck as he moves forward."

Under Gordon, MDHHS ordered indoor dining to temporarily cease at restaurants in November, citing a rise in cases of COVID-19, prompting the Michigan restaurant lobbying group to file a lawsuit against him, arguing the industry was being unfairly singled out. A judge dismissed the case in December.

Protesters also gathered outside Gordon's home in December, an experience he said had left his family rattled.

"Last night was something different: people came to my home in the dark of night, screaming through bullhorns, scaring my children, and trying to intimidate me," he said in a statement at the time. "That is wrong, and, in case anyone is wondering, it’s a waste of time."

The news also comes a highly contagious mutation of the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading in the state. In the press conference, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive and DHHS chief deputy for health said the mutation has now been detected in at least 13 people in Washtenaw County and at least four in Wayne County.

"There are likely more cases that we have not yet identified, and there's possibly spread of the variant that is happening right now," she said.

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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