There’s not a lot of certainty about what the next legislative session has in store when it kicks off in less than three weeks, but one committee has a big task ahead of it: Getting to the bottom of the abrupt firing of Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation executive director Angela Rodell.
In a series of requests sent earlier this week, the powerful Legislative Budget and Audit Committee is demanding that the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation and its board of trustees preserve all documents, communications and information related to Rodell’s firing along with three pages of questions about the decision. In an accompanying letter, LB&A Chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof said the committee plans to hold a hearing on the firing on Jan. 17, the day before the start of the regular session.
The APFC board of trustees voted 5-1 to dismiss Rodell at a board meeting in early December. All five votes came from Dunleavy appointees, some of whom had recently and publicly sparred with Rodell over dividend-related politics (wanting to cut investor pay because the dividend approved by the Legislature wasn’t as big as Dunleavy hoped). Rodell, who oversees the fund and has no direct role in setting the size of the dividend, has argued that the fund should be single-minded in its focus on maintaining and growing the fund, which has come to serve as the vast majority of the state’s income, and keep its independence from political influence.
Though rumors of the move had been percolating following the sparring between the Dunleavy appointees and Rodell, it still came as a shock to many in the Legislature and beyond who had been impressed by the strong investment returns under Rodell’s leadership. Several other legislators and committees have also expressed interest in getting to the bottom of the firing, but the Legislative Budget & Audit Committee can bring its auditing authority (which includes the power to issue subpoenas and compel testimony) to bear.
“The dismissal was abrupt and the APFC has not provided any explanation for its actions or a clear plan for a professional and timely leadership transition. The Board’s actions threaten to send a message of management instability at the APFC during a time of global uncertainty,” von Imhof wrote. “Policy makers and the public need to know more about what led to the board’s actions on Dec. 9, 2021. Alaskans should be given better answers for such a high-profile decision. Hiding behind employee confidentiality by refusing to provide any information or transparency regarding the process followed by the board, or its goals and intent, contradicts the board’s guiding principles.”
The questions included in the letter range from questions about the board’s personnel policies and whether they were followed with Rodell—including whether she was given notice or opportunity to address any potential disciplinary issues (none of which have been publicly identified) and whether an alternative course of action from her firing was ever considered—as well as who was involved and aware of the firing as it happened.
A common thread throughout the questions and document requests was just who outside the Board of Trustees knew the firing was coming, particularly Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his administration. Though Dunleavy has claimed he was surprised about the change, there’s been plenty of skepticism especially given that two of Dunleavy’s cabinet members—Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney and Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige—accounted for two of the five votes. Among the records to be delivered is any and all communications between the trustees and the Dunleavy administration relating to Rodell’s performance and the decision to fire her.
At the time of the firing, the board offered no explanation or discussion about firing Rodell and has since argued that it’s a personnel decision in continuing to refuse to explain the move. Rodell, for her part, has also not publicly discussed her departure in depth.
In a statement given to the Juneau Empire, a spokesperson for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation indicates they plan to cooperate with the legislature’s investigation.
“As Alaskans, APFC’s Board of Trustees and Staff have a vested interest in protecting and fulfilling our fiduciary duty to the Alaska Permanent Fund for the benefit of all Alaskans,” said a statement shared by Paulyn Swanson, director of communications for APFC. “Aligned with this shared objective, APFC’s Board looks forward to meeting with the Legislative Budget & Audit Committee on January 17, 2022. In our ongoing commitment to public service and accountability, APFC is working to fulfill the Committee’s request for information in advance of the meeting.”\