Alaska legislators want answers after abrupt removal of Permanent Fund CEO

A woman stands in front a of a pie chart.
Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation CEO Angela Rodell gives an overview of the Permanent Fund and how the corporation invests in Juneau in 2018. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Legislators say they want to know why the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s board of trustees voted Thursday to remove its chief executive, Angela Rodell, effective immediately and with no explanation.

All five trustees appointed or reappointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy voted to dismiss Rodell, while the only trustee who wasn’t a Dunleavy appointee — Bill Moran of Ketchikan — voted against it. 

Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof said Alaskans deserve answers about Rodell’s sudden removal. She said she hopes to have the trustees at the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee meeting in January to get clarity. 

“What direction do the trustees want to take the fund?” von Imhof said. “And I think Alaskans should be given answers to these questions, particularly for such a high-profile position. And to me, it’s just so curious, especially given the tremendous performance of the fund under Ms. Rodell’s leadership.”

RELATED: Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board votes to remove Angela Rodell from top post

Rodell took over as CEO of the corporation in 2015. Under her leadership, the Permanent Fund has grown from $51 billion to $81 billion. Also, the fund began paying for most of the state budget. Before joining the corporation, Rodell was the revenue commissioner under then-Gov. Sean Parnell.

Her removal on Thursday came at the end of two days of board meetings. Trustees closed parts of both meetings to the public to discuss the annual evaluation of Rodell’s performance as executive director. 

After returning from the second closed session, it took the trustees just over two minutes to remove Rodell, name corporation Chief Financial Officer Valerie Mertz as the acting executive director and end the meeting. There was no public discussion.

Board chair Craig Richards did not return a request for comment on Thursday and Rodell could not be reached.

Two legislative leaders sent a letter to Richards on Friday, seeking an explanation for the board vote. Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said they wrote to express their “grave concern over the sudden and inexplicable termination” of Rodell.

“Ms. Rodell’s track record is nothing short of exemplary, she has always been a steadfast professional, and did everything within her power to shield the Fund from outside political interference,” wrote the two legislators who chair the House and Senate rules committees. “We strongly believe that the public and legislature deserve an explanation for the action the board took yesterday. We eagerly await your response.”

In September, Rodell and some of the trustees had differed over the corporation’s proposed budget, with Rodell asking them whether they were committed to the Permanent Fund’s independence.

Rodell has also publicly advocated for following the rules that limit the state’s annual draw from the fund’s earnings. She has noted that following those rules is the longstanding position of the board itself. As recently as 2020, the trustees passed a resolution that called the rules “essential.”

But Dunleavy has said that the state can afford to draw more than that limit, noting the recent stock market growth. He has proposed paying larger PFDs, plus putting the dividend and an annual limit to draws in the state constitution. Neither legislative chamber has voted to send Dunleavy’s proposed constitutional amendment to a vote of the people. 

Von Imhof said with the highest inflation in decades, it’s critical that the fund’s investment decisions are prudent. 

“It’s extremely important for the permanent fund to be independent and that it does not become politicized,” she said. 

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson said he was deeply concerned about Rodell’s removal. 

“I think that her reputation is stellar,” he said. “And she’s known for her intelligence and candor. She’s appreciated by both sides of the aisle. And she’s been successful at what she does. And she’s trusted.”

Josephson said Rodell’s removal will only make him “more intransigent” in supporting following the rules limiting draws from Permanent Fund earnings. 

Josephson is considering drafting a bill to change how the Permanent Fund’s trustees are appointed. He said allowing the governor to appoint all of the trustees — as under the current system — gives one person too much power. 

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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