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Hobbs fires DCS director after less than 2 months

Gov. Katie Hobbs has fired the director of the Department of Child Safety less than two months after appointing him to lead the state’s child welfare agency.

In a statement Thursday morning, Hobbs announced she’d withdrawn the nomination of Matthew Stewart, a former child safety specialist and training director with the agency who would have been the first Black director of DCS.

“As a social worker, I take the leadership of this agency very seriously, and while I thank Matthew Stewart for his work with the agency over the last month and a half, he will not be moving forward in the cabinet appointment process,” Hobbs said. “Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the governor, and this is a decision that was made for the best interests of all parties involved.”

The governor’s office did not elaborate on why Hobbs fired Stewart. But Senate Republicans, who’ve been critical of the new governor’s nominees to lead state agencies, claimed credit for unearthing past reprimands in Stewart’s personnel file.

Republican Sen. Jake Hoffman, the chair of the Committee on Director Nominations, said late Wednesday that Stewart was reprimanded for “insubordination and unauthorized absence” while working as a DCS training supervisor in 2020. Stewart resigned from his position before he could be suspended, according to Hoffman.

Hoffman also claimed that Stewart fired multiple gay employees at DCS during his short time in office — firings that prompted complaints against Stewart, and subsequently his forced resignation by Hobbs, according to Hoffman.

“It’s disgraceful that Katie Hobbs either did not conduct a thorough review of Mr. Stewart prior to offering him the position as DCS director, or she thought she could sweep his history under the rug,” Hoffman said in a statement. “While Katie Hobbs openly touted skin-color as her seemingly only priority in the search for the next potential DCS director, it might have also been a good idea to look at experience and qualifications, too.”

Hoffman said Stewart’s firing vindicates the need for the new Senate committee created to vet Hobbs’ nominees. 

In the past, nominees for director were assigned to committees whose subject matter expertise aligned with the relevant agency’s scope of work. Now nominees are questioned by Hoffman, a conservative firebrand and frequent critic of Hobbs.

The Senate already rejected another Hobbs’ nominee — Theresa Cullen, who was appointed to head the state Department of Health. Hobbs withdrew Cullen’s nomination at about the same time the Senate voted to reject her.

Stewart had not yet received a confirmation hearing.

Michael Wisehart, who served as director of the Department of Economic Security under former Gov. Doug Ducey, will serve as the interim director of DCS, Hobbs announced.

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.