Legislative committee’s report on the firing of Permanent Fund director Rodell disappoints partisan Dunleavy critics

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For several hours on Wednesday, lawyers hired by the Alaska Legislative Budget and Audit Committee attempted to get through their presentation of their final report to the committee, which had hired them to dig into why Angela Rodell was fired last December by the Alaska Permanent Fund Board of Trustees.

But the investigators were interrupted repeatedly by the lawmakers.

Rodell, when she was fired, threatened political retribution against the Permanent Fund trustees, a point that was brought up Wednesday by attorneys for Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, the law firm hired by the committee for $100,000 to investigate whether Rodell herself had been targeted by the Dunleavy Administration.

The partisan lawmakers on the committee completely ignored the fact that Rodell had made a political threat. And they ignored the fact that attorneys found no such involvement by Gov. Dunleavy, as Rodell had alleged to the committee last winter.

The $150,000 of public funds got the committee a 65-page report — costing the state over $1,700 per page. The most damaging finding was that the trustees could have had a better process for firing Rodell, but that finding was softened by the statement that when a board loses confidence in a CEO, the board members don’t have to produce any specific one incident that leads them to fire the CEO. The board’s loss of confidence is legally sufficient. Members of the Permanent Fund Board of Trustees had different reasons, but all but one of them shared a loss of confidence in Rodell. The presentation showed that Rodell had simply not managed the relationship between herself and her bosses.

The conclusions were not making Rep. Andy Josephson happy. A trial attorney himself, he kept interrupting and badgering the presenting attorneys to agree with him that Rodell could easily sue the state for damages for being fired. He kept trying to figure out a way to make the trustees appear they’d done something illegal. The attorneys were not going along with Josephson, however. After all, anyone can sue for being fired.

A few of the committee members — Josephson, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, and Sen. Natasha von Imhof, especially — felt it was more important that they make extensive and interruptive comments than that the presentation could continue in an organized fashion. This constant interruption appeared to be because they were not getting the answers they wanted.

Attorneys Howard Trickey and Chris Slottee, sitting before the committee and attempting to get through their presentation, were repeatedly quizzed by the legislators who usually also vociferously oppose the governor and who were eager to put words in the attorneys’ mouths and recharacterize their comments for the record.

At times, the presenting attorneys reminded the committee that the specific concerns the Permanent Fund trustees raised about Rodell’s firing would come later in their presentation. If they could get to it.

In one instance that illustrates the willful disregard of facts being presented to them, Committee Chairwoman von Imhof stated on the record that the trustees “only” used the negative comments made by staff members, and had ignored all the positive comments.

That was not what the investigating attorneys had repeatedly told the committee. They said that Permanent Fund Board trustees relied more heavily on the negative comments by the fund’s investment staff than on positive comments made during Rodell’s evaluation.

The attorneys showed professional patience with the committee but were not able to advance through the presentation, as the interrogations and comments by committee members ended up dominating the committee hearing, which lasted several hours.

Takeaways from the official report to the committee:

  • Nothing in the official report paid for by the committee contradicts anything in the independent review paid for by the trustees themselves.
  • The investment staff of the Permanent Fund Corporation were increasingly critical of Rodell’s management, as evidenced by the “360” review that the trustees conducted.
  • Rodell interfered with the board’s own election of its officers, discouraging them from electing Lucinda Mahoney as vice chair.
  • The board could have used a more consistent form of performance measurements throughout the years that Rodell was at the helm and could have provided more clear standards for management performance.
  • There is no credible evidence supporting Rodell’s claim to the Legislature that she was fired by the governor or that he was involved in any way in her performance review or firing.

Rodell was executive director of the fund from 2015 until December 2021. She had been appointed by former Gov. Bill Walker, who had actually wanted to hire his political ally Brian Rogers of Fairbanks, who was then the chancellor of University of Alaska Fairbanks. Rodell had been part of the Parnell Administration as commissioner of Revenue. But Walker was pressured to hire someone with actual investment experience, which Rodell, former commissioner of Revenue has. Her performance reviews were relatively positive until about 2018, when they began to deteriorate and her scores on her evaluations fell year after year.

The Permanent Fund trustees tried to maintain Rodell’s privacy during the process of announcing her firing last December, but she chose to make it a political firestorm, having warned them that she would do so.

When former board Chairman Craig Richards, who was first appointed by Walker to the board in 2015, and has been reappointed by Dunleavy, was called up in front of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee last winter to describe why Rodell was fired, he demurred out of respect for employment privacy concerns. But the ensuing investigation has shown the board was justified, as it no longer trusted Rodell, and felt she was manipulating the board and pursuing her own political agenda.

All the committee was left with on Wednesday was an idea that Jospheson, von Imhof, and Spohnholz advanced: They want the Legislature to take control of who is appointed to the Permanent Fund Board of Trustees and remove the ability of the governor to appoint members of his cabinet to the board.

The Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt report and presentation is at this legislative link.

The trustees’ report, conducted simultaneously, was released on Tuesday to Must Read Alaska, as a result of a public records request, and is in this earlier story:

12 COMMENTS

  1. The Alaska Permanent Fund not following their own written standards for performance evaluations and termination will result in a financial windfall for Ms. Rodell. Meanwhile AIDEA has been publicly exposed as the piggy bank for stupid investments that have been privately known since Gov. Hickel used AIDEA $ for contaminated MarkAir Hangars

  2. Politics says it all. Walker wanted Brian Rogers. Rodell was Parnell’s Revenue Commissioner. Her performance records were positive than negative. Get the politics out of the Permanent Fund. The era of loose monetary is over

  3. The meat of the whole thing is the Legislature wants control of the Perm Fund outright.

    “Greed and entitlement”, Natasha?

    Part of me says give it to them. They’ll bankrupt it inside of a decade and end this farce once and for all.

  4. Suzanne this is great reporting and you nailed it – those silly Dunleavy haters are out of control and gonna get creamed when the red wave washes over the state and we have 4 more years of competent leadership standing tall at the capitol. Keep it up sister!!!

  5. The board is not demonstrating that they can stand above petty personality discord.

    The APFC has the responsibility for managing and growing the Permanent Fund. There is nothing more important than that. The bigger the fund, the better. Alaskans benefit in all sorts of ways, not the least of which is with bigger dividends.

    Rodell grew the fund by a staggering $31 billion dollars during her tenure. I personally would have put up with personality clashes with such incredible growth.

    The big picture is growing the fund.

    Almost a year later the board has yet to find a replacement for Rodell. That demonstrates the board did not have a clear plan for firing and replacing its top person. That is a catastrophic management failure by the board. It is also evident that top fund managers are leery of working for the current board.

    Since Rodell’s departure the fund has lost about $7 billion dollars from the peak. Today the fund contains about $73 billion.

    Biden has done everything he can to destroy the US economy- he’s caused a recession, he has wiped at least ten trillion dollars of value out of the stock market, and he has caused the worst inflation in half a century. But good investors know how to make money even when the market is in decline through short selling and other tactics. The APFC has not managed this downturn well- as evidenced by the billions of dollars they’ve lost.

    It is fair to point to Dunleavy for some of these failures. He hired a chief of staff that was a joke, and it is Dunleavy that is responsible for appointing APFC board members. That so many top people have left his administration (over 50 vacancies in AEA and AIDEA) suggests the problem starts with the Governor and his top people.

    • The Permanent Fund is about where it was last summer, about 12 % down from the peak, during the same period the S&P 500 is down about 22%. I agree the APFC Board botched it with Rodell, conflating the stock market with the economy indicates you do not understand how markets work. The only thing you can blame Dunleavy for is loading the Board with PF dividend advocates who do not care, or understand how to grow the PF.

      • How do markets work in your world? Please enlighten.

        In most realities when a radical administration guts the US economy by choking the energy sector and mass printing of cash without the means to secure it, both markets and the economy stagger.

  6. So, the premodona couldn’t handle office politics. Too bad, so sad. Now she can get back to working us out of money with her so-called non- profit organizations while flying in her Gulfstreem jet.

  7. Good reporting, Suzanne! I read the accounts in the ADN and the Alaska Public Media. The documents that I downloaded and read included a document signed by Ms. Rodell that was an agreement to a fire by any cause, so she really doesn’t have a case. The docs were in the personnel series that I downloaded from the ADN. Really, I hope the State fights any case she presents. As for the “performance” of the Fund, as I have stated before and others have also stated, the Stock Market goes up and goes down. Under Biden, it has mostly gone down. There are no metrics to prove if she would have been able to perform well under such a negative market, as she was only employed in more positive markets in her position. There is also the taste in her present employer’s mouth should she raise too much trouble over a past firing. Sometimes it is better to let sleeping dogs lye. Finally, to see von Imhof and crew unable to deliver their “October Surprise” makes my day. Voters remember to rank red, and use this system against those who would run two losers against a winner. This election demands it. Either Walker or Gara will be bad for Alaska unless you want Alaska to look like California and New York. RANK RED!

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