Governor Gretchen Whitmer has issued her first executive directive as Michigan’s governor. It requires state department employees to report threats to public health, safety or welfare up the chain of command. And it requires those threats to be investigated.
Governor Whitmer signed the directive while flanked by employees of the Department of Environmental Quality.
That’s a department that has faced reports of low morale and that came under the microscope in the wake of the Flint water crisis.
The governor said this isn’t about just one department.
"But I do think that there are a few examples that would tell you that when there isn’t that upward communication where it doesn’t get to decision makers that people can get hurt in the process," said Gov. Whitmer.
Gov. Whitmer said requiring people to report potential threats up the chain of command will encourage and empower state employees to speak up.
One of the employees in attendance was DEQ specialist Robert Delaney, whose separate 2012 warning to a former department director about the emergence of pollution from man-made chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, did not prompt a major statewide response for more than five years.
Whitmer said her move is not about any one incident from recent years, but she did not deny that Flint and PFAS were factors in her decision.
"We thought this was an important way to lead on the first day, to tell state employees we listen to them and public health is paramount," she said. She echoed her past concerns about rebuilding morale within the DEQ. The Department of Health and Human Services also has seen employees charged criminally over Flint.
Asked about concerns that the prosecution has left state employees hesitant to make key decisions, Whitmer said the dynamic between the Snyder administration and former Attorney General Bill Schuette — who filed the charges — had a "huge impact I think on what was happening and how state employees felt and how concerned they were about doing their job. We don't have that dynamic anymore. We've got a set of new leaders in my Cabinet."