Without explanation, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s board of trustees abruptly removed executive director Angela Rodell on Thursday despite record-breaking performance by the fund over the past year.
The fund provides most of the revenue for Alaska’s services, and state legislators said they were stunned by the action, which board members refused to discuss. The vote, which came at the end of a regular quarterly meeting, was 5-1 in favor of immediate removal.
In six years as executive director, Rodell grew the fund at a record-breaking pace, seeing its assets expand from $51 billion to more than $83 billion.
“I’m stunned. I can’t wait to see the Board of Trustees’ reasoning for terminating her. To me, it’s the equivalent of trading Michael Jordan after you’ve won five NBA championships,” said Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks and a member of the Senate Finance Committee. (Bishop and Rodell both served in the administration of former Gov. Sean Parnell.)
The board’s action came after corporation trustees left an executive session intended to review Rodell’s performance.
Chairman Craig Richards asked for a motion to remove Rodell immediately, state Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney seconded the proposal, and trustees adjourned the meeting immediately after voting.
“With that, our meeting is concluded,” Richards said.
“I’m absolutely stunned. The Permanent Fund is performing at a record pace, and the executive director is fired? What the hell is going on?” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham and a member of the House Finance Committee.
Voting in favor of removal were Richards, Mahoney, state Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige, trustee Steve Rieger, and trustee Ethan Schutt. The lone no vote was from trustee William Moran. None offered an explanation.
All five votes in favor of Rodell’s removal were from trustees appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The lone no vote came from a trustee appointed by former Gov. Bill Walker.
“The Permanent Fund is not going to comment on personnel matters. And that’s the only comment that I can give on this issue. ... That’s all we’re going to say on this one,” Richards said in a brief phone call Thursday evening.
Mahoney, contacted by email, referred an interview request to a corporation spokeswoman who provided a short written statement and refused to answer further questions.
The statement did not say why Rodell was removed, only that trustees “decided to undertake a search for a new executive director” after Rodell’s annual evaluation.
Chief Financial Officer Valerie Mertz will serve as the acting executive director, and trustees will begin recruiting a permanent replacement. Mertz has been the corporation’s chief financial officer since 2012.
Rodell said on Thursday evening that she was not prepared to talk about the trustees’ action.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve Alaskans and their fund, which is our most important resource both for Alaska today and future generations,” she said by text message. “I am especially thankful for the incredible employees of APFC and the community of Juneau.”
Independent advisers had praised Rodell and the corporation’s staff during the two-day quarterly meeting, calling their performance exceptional when compared to similar funds nationally.
During the most recent fiscal year, the fund gained 29.73% in value, the most of any year since its creation, and as of Wednesday, its total unaudited value was $83.5 billion.
“I would just want to point out as opposed to characterizing these as ‘pretty solid results,’ these are outstanding,” said George Zinn, a corporate vice president and treasurer of Microsoft who is a member of the corporation’s investment advisory group.
“Congratulations to Angela and (Chief Investment Officer) Marcus (Frampton) and the rest of the staff,” he said in the first day of the meeting.
The fund is the source of two-thirds of Alaska’s state revenue, far more than oil and all other taxes combined.
Rodell was named the corporation’s director six years ago.
A graduate of Marquette University and the University of Kentucky, she worked in a variety of jobs in the financial industry before becoming senior vice president of First Southwest Co. in March 2004. In 2011, she became deputy commissioner of Revenue. Named Parnell’s revenue commissioner in 2013, she worked as a consultant to the Senate Finance Committee before taking the top job at APFC. At the time, the fund stood at $51 billion.
During their two-day annual meeting in Anchorage, trustees said they were happy with the performance of the fund, which appears to point toward other dissatisfaction with Rodell.
At the corporation’s annual meeting in October, Rodell clashed with trustees over the issue of bonus payments to investment managers who beat goals. After Mahoney proposed reducing proposed bonuses and cited the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend — an issue not controlled by the fund — Rodell questioned whether the fund’s independence was being eroded.
As executive director, Rodell encouraged elected officials to stick to a “rules-based approach” when taking money from the Permanent Fund. Since 2018, an annual transfer from the fund has paid for most state services in Alaska.
Although that transfer is governed by a formula in state law, the Alaska Legislature may increase or decrease the size of the transfer at will. Rodell has encouraged officials to stick with the formula in order to create reliability for fund managers, allowing them to invest more efficiently.
This year, Gov. Dunleavy proposed temporarily overdrawing the fund to pay for a larger Permanent Fund dividend during a transition period toward a constitutionally guaranteed dividend proposed by the governor.
When asked what the governor thinks of the decision to fire Rodell, a spokesman responded in writing: “Governor Dunleavy has no involvement in the board of trustees’ actions or decisions. The governor does not request personnel actions for any independent state corporation. The Alaska Constitution and state statutes give management of the APFC to the trustees.”
The spokesman did not answer a follow-up question asking whether the governor has any concerns about the abrupt removal.