State Capitol Hush Money Agreements Face Increasing Scrutiny
There’s a new twist developing in the saga of big payout non-disclosure separation agreements involving top-level employees of the State of Michigan.
The practice moved to the front and center in the past week. An increasing focus on the departure of former Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon revealed he got a lot of money as part of a don’t talk don’t tell agreement with Governor Gretchen Whitmer. As more and more questions were asked, two more similar agreements with former top-level state employees came to light. Questions are still being asked about what happened that was so bad that the Governor and Gordon needed a non-disclosure agreement as part of a $155,506 state payout to Gordon. Marshall Republican State Representative Matt Hall responded to the original revelation with
The Detroit Free Press reports the state is now putting those types of agreements under the microscope. There is no ban being issued on non-disclosure agreements, but at least the door is being opened by the state’s Chief Operating Officer. The Free Press reports an email from Trish Foster to all state department heads implies there may be changes in the wind. But no specifics are offered. The Free Press reports it got a copy of the message and it opens, “In the coming weeks you will be receiving guidance related to handling separation agreements with state employees going forward." The email to state department directors continues with, "This guidance will not replace any rules or regulations provided by the Michigan Civil Service Commission, but will instead serve as an opportunity for us to review our practices and procedures in support of our dedicated state employees and the work they do each day on behalf of the state of Michigan."
The paper says many state departments are now processing Freedom of Information Act requests about separation agreements. State departments are not exempt from responding to those under Michigan’s open records law, but the Governor’s office is exempt.
Republicans in the state legislature are promising full and open investigations into the process of trading payoffs for silence. They say it amounts to using taxpayer money to keep the process of state government hidden from taxpayers.