(The Center Square) – Within 48 hours, reporters have illuminated three secret taxpayer-funded severance packages in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.
Combined, the three separate payouts cost taxpayers $252,978.
The Detroit News first reported the severance packages.
Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Gray resigned Nov. 5 after months of record jobless claims.
In March 2020, the Whitmer administration’s economic shutdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19 threw roughly 2 million people out of work, and in June, lawmakers said 140,000 unemployed residents were still waiting on benefits.
In August, two people, one of them an UIA employee, were charged with attempting to steal nearly $2 million of unemployment benefits.
Still, Gray’s secret taxpayer-funded payout was $85,872. The payout is stipulated in an agreement in which he and the state are required to "maintain confidentiality" regarding his employment and departure.
"In addition, both parties agree that they will not make any statements or take any action disparaging the reputation of the other, whether written or oral," the agreement says.
According to the severance package obtained by The Center Square, Gray was to be paid $76,626 mailed within 10 days of the deal’s execution in November, while $9,246 was to be sent to a law firm for attorney fees.
Gray also vowed to release any potential legal claims he might have had against the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
Two other secret payouts were also reported recently, including former state health director Robert Gordon, who was paid $155,506. Gordon's Deputy Director Sarah Etsy was paid roughly $11,600.
Whitmer’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. In a Tuesday news conference, Whitmer cited her confidentiality agreement in not answering direct questions about Gordon’s severance package but said she “bristles” at the characterization that the six-figure payout was “hush money.”
Director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation Patrick Wright told The Center Square said he was unaware of the state previously paying out severance packages, but that doesn't mean they haven't been done before.
"Typically, you would settle with somebody if you thought that they had a potential claim against you," Wright said.
The payouts using taxpayer dollars riled up Republican lawmakers who are calling for investigations and subpoenas.
“This is a public official being bought off with taxpayer dollars,” House Oversight Chairman Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, said in a news conference Tuesday.
“What I want to know is, what are they hiding?”
Johnson said his committee will “begin an investigation to look at the process of what they’re doing within this administration,” saying they might subpoena witnesses.
While Gray and Gordon’s severance packages included a confidentiality clause, Etsy’s didn’t.