by Bruce Walker
The Michigan House of Representatives Oversight Committee continued to debate last week whether the committee should grant itself authority to issue subpoenas in specific instances, but postponed a vote until next week’s scheduled meeting.
At its meeting Thursday morning, the committee addressed how broad subpoena authority could be applied to compel testimony from government personnel and agencies. Specifically, the committee resumed its discussion of House Resolution 60, which would authorize the committee to subpoena former Michigan Department and Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon.
The effort is spearheaded by Oversight Committee Chairman Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) (pictured above) as a check on the executive branch’s powers in light of Gov. Whitmer’s nondisclosure agreement and $156,600 taxpayer-funded payout to Gordon. Johnson introduced HR 60 on March 18.
Additionally, Steven Gray, former director of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, received an $85,872 severance package and confidentiality agreement from the governor.
Gordon resigned abruptly on January 22, noting as a reason only that his father had died the previous weekend after contracting COVID-19. The secrecy surrounding his departure, however, remained after Whitmer and Gordon subsequently waived their nondisclosure agreement.
Johnson said he was happy to see the governor and Gordon waive the confidentiality agreement. He said he interpreted that announcement as an opening for the former director to voluntarily speak to the committee.
Gordon has repeatedly stonewalled the Oversight Committee’s requests to testify, however.
“We have waited as long as I think reasonably possible,” Johnson said, noting that the Oversight Committee would need to vote each time it decided to exercise its subpoena authority rather than any time a government employee is fired.
Although he said Gordon’s departure appeared “sketchy” at the time, Johnson added it looked increasingly suspicious when it was revealed the former director received a secret six-figure severance package during the middle of a health pandemic.
“This is somebody who takes an oath of office, this is not some low-level employee,” Johnson said. “This is a top level director in the state of Michigan. Once we found out that there is an agreement to stay quiet and for a large sum of money, then I think the Legislature has some role there.”
Concerns expressed by Julie Brixie, D-Okemos, and David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, included whether subpoena authority could be abused by the committee in some form of partisan “witch hunt,” which LaGrand warned could be used as a return to the McCarthy era of the 1950s.
Johnson noted his resolution only allows the committee to approve subpoenas after a resolution is passed for each circumstance.
The committee plans to vote on the resolution Thursday.
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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.
Photo “State Rep Steve Johnson” by Michigan House Republicans.