Legislature must get the facts on Angela Rodell's firing

1/29/2022 9:25 AM

“It is this committee’s goal that the fund is protected from political intervention or manipulation to ensure the fund’s continued growth and sustainability. And without that assurance, the fund’s health and future sustainability for Alaska is in jeopardy."

With that statement by Anchorage Sen. Natasha von Imhof Thursday, the Legislative Budget chairman & Audit Committee took the first step to investigate the firing of Angela Rodell, the former executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.

The committee unanimously approved a contract of up to $100,000 with a law firm to investigate Rodell’s firing and prepare a report. The committee also unanimously approved giving Von Imhof the power to issue subpoenas to compel testimony or the release of documents.

The Anchorage Daily News said the committee will hire Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt.

This is a sensible and logical step, given the refusal of Gov. Mike Dunleavy to give a candid explanation about the role of his administration in removing Rodell.

Someone in the Dunleavy administration made the political decision to act with lightning speed to respond to a request by the Anchorage Daily News to release Rodell’s personnel file. The governor’s office knew in advance that the file would be released, another clear sign of political manipulation.

The investigation is also necessary because of  the refusal by Craig Richards, chairman of the Permanent Fund trustees, to talk about why Rodell was fired or about his dealings with Dunleavy’s office.

It turned out there was nothing in her personnel file that would warrant termination.

Rodell opposed attempts by Dunleavy to withdraw $3 billion from the Permanent Fund last year to pay for bigger dividends and disguise a state budget deficit. The Permanent Fund trustees are technically opposed to unsustainable withdrawals, based on resolutions approved in the past, but there are two Dunleavy cabinet members on the trustees who have to follow the governor’s lead.

Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney promoted the $3 billion plan in public, while Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige would no doubt fall in line if required to do so by Dunleavy.

In 2019, Richards was paid between $20,000 and $50,000 for legal work on behalf of the Stand Tall with Mike anti-recall group. He collected a similar amount from the group in 2020.

I believe that one reason the committee has taken this step is that when Richards appeared before the budget and audit committee on January 17, he was arrogant and dismissive to legislators.

When asked by Anchorage Rep. Ivy Spohnholz whether Richards had any dealings with Dunleavy’s office about Rodell’s position in the six months before her firing, he refused to answer.

“All right I will take that as a yes,” said Spohnholz.

The Alaska Landmine reported that Richards and other Permanent Fund board members did indeed meet with Dunleavy in the weeks before the firing. I think there is zero chance that Dunleavy didn’t know what was going on, though he claims he was in the dark.

As part of the investigation, Richards and other trustees need to provide details on the role of the governor’s office and Dunleavy in Rodell’s firing and the specifics on their interactions with the governor’s office.

In his appearance before the committee earlier this month, Richards did not appear to understand that the LB&A committee is required by law to oversee the Permanent Fund.

And he did not appear to understand why the abrupt firing of an executive with a strong track record in Alaska and a solid statewide reputation would set off alarm bells.

And he did not appear to understand that one of the main jobs of the trustees of the Permanent Fund is to ensure that the institution keeps the trust of the public.

Richards harmed himself and the Permanent Fund when he complained about being asked to speak about the firing to legislators and claimed that somehow the meeting was out of line.

“I am truly shocked that I am here. This is, this is a new one to me, Ok.  We have a at-will employee who reports to the board, who years of documented evidence demonstrates that there were trust problems going both ways between the board and the executive director,” Richards said.

“This is the employee that reports to the board. This has been going on for years. The board decided to make a change. I think it’s pretty apparent that we had the authority to do it. I think it’s pretty apparent that like many, many people that work in state government at the top levels, that you know, it’s an at-will relationship and when it’s not working, it’s not working.”

“To me, what it seems is frankly, Ms. Rodell is popular. And she’s making a lot of hay and that is getting a response and a feedback.”

“What is best for the fund is to move on,” Richards said.

The Legislature is not ready to “move on,” despite the desire of Richards and Dunleavy to forget about what happened.

“It is important that we protect our nest egg for many years, many decades, many generations,” said Von Imhof.

She said hiring an independent investigator for an impartial report will keep this matter at arm’s length from the Legislature.

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