The Alaska Legislative Budget and Audit Committee today approved subpoenas of 11 individuals they believe might have important information regarding the abrupt firing of Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation Executive Director Angela Rodell last fall.
The action marks the latest turn in the Legislature’s efforts to get to the bottom of the firing, which has been marked by allegations that Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration orchestrated the firing in order to install more politically friendly leadership of the state fund.
Legislators on the committee as well as the outside legal counsel hired to conduct the investigation both made clear they intend to interview the individuals—who are mostly on the fund’s Board of Trustees and management—voluntarily first. The subpoenas would only be used if they refuse.
“My thoughts are if you’ve got nothing to hide, shouldn’t be a problem. Just respond, give the interview, move on,” said committee chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, “but if people refuse, then we’re going to pass out subpoenas.”
The subpoenas would apply to:
- The Alaska Board of Trustees: Craig Richards (chair), Lucinda Mahoney (vice chair, Revenue Commissioner), William Moran, Steve Rieger, Corri Feige (Resources Commissioner), Ethan Schutt
- Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation management: Valerie Mertz (acting executive director and chief financial officer), Marcus Frampton (chief investment officer), Chad Brown (director of human resources), Paulyn Swanson (director of communications)
- Department of Revenue Legislative Liaison Genevieve Wojtusik
The subpoenas follow a response from the Department of Law to the initial interview requests that threatened a lawsuit against the Legislature, disputing the Legislature’s ability to conduct oversight on the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s firing of Rodell. The letter also accused the panel of violating its own procedures. The Legislature’s legal counsel said the state was wrong on all counts and that the Legislature has broad authority to investigate the corporation and in how it conducts its own business.
“In our view the state is taking an extraordinarily narrow view of the statute,” said Christopher Slottee, one of the attorneys working for the Legislature on the investigation.
The Department of Law has also accused the process of having a conflict of interest because Sen. von Imhof said she was friends with Rodell. Slottee also said it was not an issue, “A mere friendship is not a conflict of interest.”
In fact, many in the Legislature would likely consider Rodell a friend. Her tenure as the executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation has coincided with years of extraordinarily performance. She has also been a voice of caution and restraint as the Legislature tapped the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund to begin funding government, calling for a sustainable and predictable model for the fund and for state government.
Those messages allegedly ran astray of the politics of the members of the fund’s Board of Trustees and Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Allegations around the Rodell’s firing have suggested that the Board of Trustees, which includes two commissioners from Dunleavy’s cabinet, coordinated with the administration on the firing in order to install an executive director more amenable to the governor’s agenda.
At a hearing with Board of Trustees chair Craig Richards, Sen. von Imhof asked him directly if he planned on taking the position. He said he did not and denied involvement with the Dunleavy administration. Dunleavy has also plead ignorance of the situation.[Read more: As pressure mounts over firing of Permanent Fund head, Dunleavy throws a tantrum about the press]
Richards refused to offer any explanation for the firing of Rodell and told legislators to drop the issue if they cared about the health of the fund.
Rodell, for her part, says she believes it was “political retribution.”
The subpoenas would compel the individuals to testify under oath, which could carry the penalty of perjury. The same penalty does not apply to voluntary interviews, but investigators said subpoenas may become needed if they believe the individuals are lying or withholding information.