Dunleavy appointees fire Permanent Fund director

The board that oversees Alaska’s multibillion-dollar investment portfolio has fired Angela Rodell as chief executive officer of the Permanent Fund Corp.

Legislative leaders and Finance Committee members are upset at the surprise decision and plan to hold hearings to ask questions. The fund this past fiscal year grew more than 25%, with record returns on its investments.

The board on Dec. 9 voted 5-1 to remove Rodell. The five votes came from members last appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The board did not disclose a reason for the decision, which came after the board conducted a closed-door session in Anchorage to discuss Rodell’s annual performance.

Chairman Craig Richards asked for a motion to remove her immediately, and Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney seconded the proposal. “With that, our meeting is concluded,” Richards said after the vote.

The only vote against the motion came from William Moran, who was reappointed to the board by then-Gov. Bill Walker in 2018. Moran is chairman of the board of Ketchikan-based First Bank.

Rodell, who was commissioner of the Department of Revenue under then-Gov. Sean Parnell, has led the corporation since 2015. Since then, the investment fund, whose earnings support most of the state budget for public services and the annual dividends paid to residents, has grown from $51 billion to $81 billion as of the corporation’s latest financial statement on Oct. 31.

“We write to express our grave concern over the sudden and inexplicable termination of Angela Rodell as executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.,” the chairs of the House and Senate Rules committees wrote on Dec. 10 to corporation chair Richards.

“We strongly believe that the public and the Legislature deserve an explanation for the action the board took,” said the letter, signed by Sen. Gary Stevens, of Kodiak, and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, of Dillingham.

The trustees have declined to explain their decision, citing personnel confidentiality. Legislators said that’s unacceptable for such the important position running the investment fund that provides almost two-thirds of state general fund revenues.

The Legislative and Budget Audit Committee, comprised of House and Senate members, was to meet this week and ask that board members attend the committee’s Jan. 17 meeting in Juneau. Anchorage Sen. Natasha von Imhof, committee chair, said Saturday that lawmakers want to know the facts that led to Rodell’s dismissal and “what new direction” the board wants to take in managing the fund.

“No one’s talking, and in a vacuum, rumors swirl. I believe that Alaskans should be given better answers with such a high-profile position,” the senator told the Anchorage Daily News last week.

“I want to make sure the Permanent Fund remains apolitical,” von Imhof, who also serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said Saturday.

An independent audit of the corporation, presented in September, found no major problems.

Just last month, Rodell was elected chair of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds, a global network that manages trillions of dollars of funds.

Sen. Bert Stedman, of Sitka, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, told the Daily News he has requested a hearing on the firing and finds it suspicious.

“There is a lot of concern that this is clearly politically related in that the Permanent Fund board is being set up and pushed to become more of a political arm of whoever the sitting governor is,” Stedman said. “And that is something that we have avoided for years.”

Several lawmakers said they worry that the decision to fire Rodell is linked to the governor’s unsuccessful efforts to win legislative approval for drawing $3 billion more from the Permanent Fund this year to help pay larger dividends to Alaskans. Rodell has publicly urged elected officials to avoid overdrawing the fund, which would diminish its future earnings and could jeopardize its annual payout to the state budget.

Responsible management of the fund and guarding against excessive withdrawals is even more important amid high inflation rates that could eat into the fund’s real earnings, von Imhof said Saturday.

Rodell disagreed with two of the governor’s appointees on the board in October when they tried unsuccessfully to cut employee incentives from the corporation budget. Mahoney said it would be unfair to pay out financial incentives at the same time as the Legislature declined to approve larger Permanent Fund dividends.

“I’m stunned. I can’t wait to see the board of trustees’ reasoning for terminating her. To me, it’s the equivalent of trading Michael Jordan after you’ve won five NBA championships,” Sen. Click Bishop, of Fairbanks, and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Daily News.

A spokesman for the governor issued a statement last week: “Governor Dunleavy has no involvement in the board of trustees’ actions or decisions.”

 

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