Michigan House votes unanimously to curb separation deals

Lansing – Michigan House unanimously voted Tuesday to re-limit the separation agreements between authorities and outgoing state employees two months after secret deals were revealed at the Capitol.

Most notably, Robert Gordon, the former state health director, was paid nine months after he retired on Jan. 22, and Steve Gray, the former unemployment director, received nearly five months when he left on November 5. Both deals urged Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration and ex-officials to keep the circumstances of the departures confidential.

Representatives voted 110-0 for a bill that generally limits severance pay to 12 weeks of a person’s normal wages for individual executive and legislative employees. The proposal also usually prohibits contracts with government officials that provide severance pay or contain nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements.

Unlike civil servants, civil servants are elected or appointed, like an appointed department head, to a statutory office in the executive or legislative branch of the state government.

“We need to limit these transactions,” said Rep. John Roth, R-Traverse City, the bill’s sponsor. “We must shed light on them when they occur.”

The proposal includes exceptions for situations where the legal counsel determines that severance payment is required to serve the best interests of the state based on the dispute. In addition, the agencies would have to disclose on their websites separation agreements that provide for more than six weeks of the normal wages of the civil servant or civil servant.

Legislation has yet to be passed in the Michigan Senate and received Whitmer’s signature.

It is unclear whether Whitmer supports the legislation. In March, she issued an executive guideline allowing the separation agreements to continue.

At the request of the public record, the Detroit News on March 1 revealed Gordon’s separation agreement. The former health director who led Michigan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic received $ 155,506 after stepping down on Jan. 22, the day Whitmer’s government announced a new order that would allow restaurants to dine indoors to reopen in restaurants.

Last week, Gordon told lawmakers he was asked to attend a video conference call with governor officials on Jan. 22.

“When I got there, I saw the governor and her staff,” said Gordon. “And the governor said to me, ‘Robert, I am grateful for your service. I think it is time to go in a new direction.’ She then cut the call. “

Gordon seemed unsure of the specific reasons for Whitmer’s decision. However, he said there was disagreement over elements of the state’s reopening plans. He had privately spoken out in favor of a more cautious approach to restaurant reopening, according to emails.

Mark Totten, Whitmer’s chief legal advisor, brought Gordon the idea of ​​an “executive separation agreement” shortly after the governor accepted his resignation.

The Democratic governor has claimed that similar deals are not uncommon. According to experts, however, they are used more frequently in the private sector than in government agencies.

Other Michigan agencies have also signed separation agreements in recent years, including Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan Senate. The Michigan Senate says it has awarded $ 372,614 severance pay through 20 secret separation agreements with outgoing employees over the past five years

One of the Senate agreements reviewed by The Detroit News contained a non-degrading clause that restricted the former worker’s ability to speak about an individual’s employment and a provision that the deal must be kept secret.

The House has said it has only entered into one separation agreement worth $ 25,000 in the past five years.

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