Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Legislature had confirmation power over the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s six members. It does not. It only has confirmation power over the Revenue and Natural Resources commissioners. The four public members are not reviewed by the Legislature and are selected by the governor for four-year terms. This story has been updated to reflect that change.
In a letter sent to the Alaska Legislative and Budget Committee on Monday, former Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation Director Angela Rodell told legislators that she believes her abrupt and still-unexplained firing in December was “political retribution” by Dunleavy-aligned members of the board.
“I believe my removal to be political retribution for successfully carrying the board’s mandate to protect the fund and advocate against any additional draws over the POMV spending rule in front of the 30th, 31st and 32nd Alaska State Legislatures, which is contrary to Governor Dunleavy’s agenda,” Rodell said in the letter, which was first reported on by the Anchorage Daily News. “It is this direct conflict of agendas that contradicts the statement made by Chair (Craig) Richards to the Senate and House Rules on Dec. 15, 2021, that ‘politics had no part’ in the board’s decision.”
The comments mark the first time that Rodell has spoken publicly about the firing, which took many by surprise given the fund’s strong performance under her management. Rodell’s accusations that politics had something to do with her firing aligns with much of the chatter about the abrupt firing. There’s been broad bipartisan interest in the Legislature to get to the bottom of the firing, which includes am Alaska Legislative and Budget Committee hearing planned for next Monday, the day before the start of the 2022 legislative session.
“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,” LB&A Chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof said in a letter to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s board of trustees about the upcoming hearing, which also included demands to maintain records. “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 LB&A Committee’s involvement in the issue is notable because the committee has subpoena power and can compel testimony. The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation has indicated that it plans to cooperate with the committee, but its members have so far been reluctant to discuss the reasoning behind the firing.
While the firing largely came as a surprise, voted on at the tail-end of the board’s December meeting, the signs that something was astray had been building since earlier in 2021.
Rodell had clashed with some of the Dunleavy-appointed members of the board over the size of the dividend, which she has no direct control over. Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney had proposed cutting investor pay to reflect the Legislature’s decision to pay out a smaller PFD than Dunleavy had proposed, which prompted Rodell to question whether the board was interested in maintaining the political independence of the board.
“Should we continue to be building this agency, or is it time to put our hands up and go, ‘Maybe it’s time to shrink this. Maybe it’s time to move it over, back to Department of Revenue. Maybe it’s–’ And how do we think about that? So it’s bigger, it’s more philosophical. It’s just trying to understand where we want to go with this organization,” Rodell said at the time.
While Rodell has no direct say in the size of the dividend, she’s regularly been a strong voice in following the Legislature’s non-binding spending rules for the Alaska Permanent Fund. Those spending rules are intended to provide a significant chunk of funding for state government (and dividends) while also protecting the underlying health of the fund and its future growth. Dunleavy, however, has pushed for overspending the fund in order to deliver on the larger dividends he promised on the campaign trail (though he’s more recently retreated to the 50/50 dividend proposed by Democratic challenger Mark Begich). Buoyed by one-time federal money, however, the governor’s latest budget proposal doesn’t call for such an overdraw.
The Legislature has no direct say on the hiring and firing of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s director. The Legislature only holds confirmation power over the Natural Resources and Revenue commissioners, which account for two of the board’s six members. Currently, five of those members are appointed by Dunleavy and they all voted in favor of removing Rodell. The lone appointee from Gov. Bill Walker voted against removing Rodell.
For Dunleavy’s part, he’s continued to maintain his claim of ignorance about the machinations that led to the decision to fire Rodell.
“I was not involved in any decision-making related to the termination of APFC’s executive director. Alaska Statute 37.13.100 states that it is the responsibility of the board of trustees, not the office of the governor, to make employment decisions about the executive director,” he said in a statement provided to the ADN. “I learned of the termination just like everyone else did, following the trustees’ executive session. Anyone who suggests I had any influence over this decision is simply wrong. I had no influence in the decision of this board.”
In performance evaluations provided by Rodell, unidentified board members accuse her of essentially filtering information to the board. “The director’s relationship with the board is soured,” one wrote.
In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Rodell told the paper that she primarily wants to clear her name from the insinuation that she did something wrong while on the job.
“I need my reputation. I want that vindication. I want people who Google my name to see that I wasn’t fired for cause,” she said. “(The board) got rid of me so they can have someone they can control and manipulate in the executive director’s seat.”