The Alaska Legislature’s investigation into the abrupt and surprising firing of Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation CEO Angela Rodell last year is nearly complete, a key legislator said Wednesday in a meeting where a legislative panel approved additional funding for the investigation.
The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee had approved $100,000 for the law firm of Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt to conduct an investigation into the December 2021 firing of Rodell, which Rodell has personally called “political retribution” by allies of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. LB&A Chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, said the initial number was an estimate before the scope of the investigation became fully clear.
“We chose that figure as an estimate. As it turns out our committee did ask this legal team to investigate well over a dozen people. This does cost money in terms of travel, preparation, transportation and transcription. They have gone past this amount,” she said. “But the good news is they are nearly finished.”
A hard deadline for the investigation to be completed or released publicly has not been announced.
The news of the firing of Rodell, a well-liked figure in Alaska politics who was appointed by the Alaska Permanent Fund’s Board of Trustees during independent Gov. Bill Walker’s time in office, was a shock to many in the Alaska Legislature. Though Rodell isn’t personally involved in the agency’s investment decisions, the Alaska Permanent Fund had been on a run of strong investment returns that buoyed the state’s financial position.
While most legislators saw the booming fund as a source of financial stability for the state, Gov. Dunleavy and his allies eyed the fund’s additional returns as a potential source of money to pay out large dividends. Rodell, based on existing direction from the board, warned legislators against ad hoc withdrawals from the fund, arguing they injected uncertainty for the fund’s managers and reduced the cushion if things go south with its investments. That position, she said, put her out of step with the Dunleavy-appointed members of the board, who still have yet to actually revise the direction.
The ad hoc withdrawal never came to pass in large part because oil prices boomed and provided an alternative, generally acceptable source of money to pad dividends.
The Legislature’s attention has been largely focused on Board of Trustees chairman Craig Richards, a close Dunleavy ally who worked as Gov. Walker’s Attorney General part of his term, as well as individuals within the Dunleavy administration. Richards, at a legislative hearing at the start of the session, was vague about the reasons she was fired—citing unspecific performance issues—warned the Legislature against investigating the firing.
The Alaska Permanent Fund posted its first annual loss since 2012 earlier this month, losing about 1.3% of its value between June 30, 2021, and June 30, 2022. Rodell was fired about halfway through the financial year. Again, while Rodell wasn’t directly involved in investment decisions, there’s been a big departure of operations staff that trustees have acknowledged may impact the fund’s performance.