Sources close to Sean Doherty reported that he was fired as Assemblyman Mathis’ Chief of Staff on Friday, May 5.
Doherty told two sources that he was fired, not by Mathis himself, but by the Assembly Rules Committee.
Mathis was elected to California Assembly District 26 in November, 2014.
The Assembly Rules Committee allegedly rarely fires staffers, happening only about once a decade and only for serious violations.
A source familiar with the rules committee was skeptical about Doherty’s story.
“I just don’t think rules is involved in personnel matters. It doesn’t smell right. It’s not usually their job.”
Debra Gravert, Chief Administrative Officer Assembly Rules Committee, said in an email, “Personnel matters related to Assembly employees are confidential. In addition, Assembly employees are “at-will” employees who serve at the pleasure of the Assembly, and their employment may be changed or terminated without cause at any time.”
Gravert continued, “All Assembly employees are employees of the Assembly and are under the control of the Assembly Rules Committee.”
A second source who has worked with the rules committee explained that the committee is the final step in getting fired from or hired to the assembly or senate.
The process though starts with Human Resources (HR.)
To be fired by the rules committee, an assembly or senate member needs to submit a request to HR.
HR then makes a determination and passes its findings to the rules committee, which makes a final determination.
Some speculated that Mathis was unaware that Doherty was under investigation by the rules committee until after he was fired, and that when the assemblyman learned his chief of staff was being fired, the assemblyman came to Doherty’s defense too late.
But according to an anonymous source familiar with the process, Mathis would have had to be the person to initiate the investigation.
“The member always knows,” she said.
Doherty was hired as Mathis’ Chief of Staff on April 16, 2015, four months after Mathis took office.
Mathis never answered questions concerning why he fired his first Chief of Staff, Cole Azare.
Azare was not only Mathis’ campaign manager, but his best friend, the best man at his wedding and a fellow veteran.
Before taking on the position of chief of staff, Doherty was a lobbyist and had owned Wildhorse Consulting since 2010.
Mathis, an underfunded candidate who won a surprise victory in November of 2014, was a Wildhorse client.
The Man Behind the Office
During his two-year tenure Doherty was described as running Mathis’ office with an iron grip.
It was seen as the work of Doherty when Mathis threw his hat in the ring in a failed bid for the Republican leadership in the summer of 2015.
His having perhaps run too soon for the Republican leadership was cited as the reason Mathis’ signature water bill was relegated to the graveyard of the “suspense file by the Speaker of the Assembly.”
Doherty also created an email account and alias in order to leave false statements on Valley Voice articles he didn’t like concerning Assemblyman Mathis.
He deliberately tried to mask who he was through misspellings and bad grammar so the comments could not be traced back to him.
Our webmaster discovered that “Steve” was actually Doherty.
Doherty’s family and family businesses additionally profited from Doherty’s employment in Mathis’ office.
His wife and daughter worked for Mathis, and Mathis’ campaign fund paid $61,759.29 to Willow Grace Productions in 2015, a company owned by Doherty’s wife.
Reasons Why the Rules Committee Would Fire a Staffer
The Assembly Rules Committee, or the Human Resources Department, can base its decision to fire a staffer for several reasons including sexual misconduct, campaign finance violations, and lobbying.
While there is no evidence of sexual misconduct, there are allegations of Doherty’s lobbying while in office and questionable campaign tactics.
Doherty de-registered as a lobbyist and gave up his ownership interest in Wildhorse Consulting to his wife, Thanne Doherty. But a former staffer said that he never fully stopped lobbying for his firm.
According to the company’s website,
“Wildhorse Consulting is a boutique-consulting with offices in Sacramento California and Washington, D.C. Our team brings a combine experience in the legislative, political, and permitting arenas of over 75 years. Wildhorse gets results by developing and executing creative and when needed, unconventional approaches, to solving your regulatory and permitting needs. Our creative and tactically aggressive approach, complemented with out of the box thinkers and strategist that take advocacy to a new level. The correct path is often not the foreseeable path, however with strategic relationships and tactical experience, Wildhorse makes even the most impossible visions a reality.”
The timing of Thanne Doherty’s being named as owner of Wildhorse Consulting coincided with her being named Mathis’ campaign manager for the 2016 election.
The consulting company also loaned the Mathis campaign $8400.
In another example of potentially questionable ethics, Doherty sent out an email in May of 2015 to family and staffers suggesting that they focus on donors rather than Mathis’ constituents.
The email stated, “I just wanted to reiterate that until July 1 fundraising must take priority over ALL schedule requests and/or needs. We have multiple events in June and they are all important in order for us to hit our goals.
When considering and/or submitting requests please ask yourself, ‘does this forward our goal for the June 30th report.’ If it does not then please understand it will take second place to a fundraising opportunity.”
Joel Rosales, one of the recipients of the email and former Mathis legislative aide, said it was made very clear that staff was not to schedule any meetings or events with constituents unless those constituents intended on donating to Mathis’ campaign.
The Voice approached Rosales when, after acquiring Doherty’s email, Rosales was listed as a recipient.
Azare said that the email was “borderline, if not outright, illegal” — because it could be construed as directing state staff to do campaign work on state time.
Rosales said, “At the time I knew it was a violation of the ethics rules and the email was a major contributing factor as to why I resigned.”
He wasn’t alone in leaving — since taking office in 2015, Mathis has lost or fired 10 staffers.