JUNEAU — The Alaska Permanent Fund’s board of trustees named acting Revenue Commissioner Deven Mitchell as the corporation’s new chief executive officer Monday to manage the $74 billion fund, which has been the source of the Permanent Fund dividend and has provided over half of state government revenue annually since 2018.
Mitchell, a lifelong Alaskan, served as the state of Alaska’s debt manager and the executive director of the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority since 1998. He stepped down from those positions in September when he was named acting Department of Revenue commissioner by Gov. Mike Dunleavy after Lucinda Mahoney resigned.
Mitchell will take over management of the fund, which he called Alaska’s “trump card” as a renewable source of revenue, during a strained fiscal situation. The fund has lost almost $10 billion in value since the beginning of the year and the stock market has dropped by 20% over the same period.
His message to the board was that he wouldn’t chase short-term cash yields as the fund has been invested for long-term growth. Mitchell said he doesn’t see the CEO’s role as second-guessing the investment decisions made by Marcus Frampton, the corporation’s chief investment officer, or overriding his decisions.
The corporation has recently struggled with recruitment and retention of staff. Mitchell said it was “a touchy subject’ and he didn’t want to overstate the issue, but that as a state of Alaska employee, he had heard “whispers” of some corporation staff feeling under-appreciated and that there had been something of a breakdown in trust between management and rank-and-file employees, which he wanted to address.
“You want your community to support you, and you want to support your community,” he said.
Former CEO Angela Rodell was abruptly fired by the board in December last year. A legislative committee hired an Anchorage law firm to conduct an independent investigation into her ouster in January, which released its final report last week, finding that the board had used a “deficient” performance evaluation process, but that loss of confidence in her was reason enough to fire her and that there was no credible evidence that Gov. Mike Dunleavy was involved.
Mitchell said he had respect for Rodell, but that he would be a little more direct and approachable with staff. Although it would be time consuming, Mitchell said one of his priorities is to revisit the fund’s five-year strategic plan midway through its enactment, given the change in leadership.
Trustee Craig Richards asked what Mitchell would do if he was given instructions as CEO from the board that didn’t align with the fund’s financial goals. Mitchell said he would try to educate the trustees but unless those directions were egregious, they would need to be followed.
“At the end of the day, the board’s the boss,” he said.
There were between 120 and 130 applications for the CEO position, which were then whittled down to 10 finalists by People AK, a recruitment company. The board’s hiring committee picked their five finalists in mid-September, and then conducted interviews last week to choose their top three candidates to go before the full board Monday for public interviews and the final selection process.
One of the other three finalists was Melanie Hardin, who currently lives in California and works as an executive at Verizon Communications. She spoke about her years of experience in the finance industry, including spells working for Charles Schwab Corp. in London, and said that her interest in the mission of Permanent Fund was to create intergenerational wealth for Alaska, calling it “capitalism with a conscience.”
The third finalist, Morgan Neff, has served as chief investment officer of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority since moving from Texas in February last year. He said he was excited about the idea of heading the fund, and giving back to Alaska. If he wasn’t chosen as the new corporation’s chief executive, Neff said he would be happy to return to his current role at AIDEA.
Five trustees were part of the final vote for the new CEO with Mitchell, the newly-appointed sixth trustee due to his position as acting Revenue commissioner, recusing himself from Monday’s decision. After a three-hour closed door meeting, the board’s choice of Mitchell as CEO was unanimous.
Frampton and acting CEO Valerie Mertz were both on the hiring committee to narrow down the candidate pool. They both sat at the table during Monday’s public interviews, but did not have a final vote. Mertz said she would return to work as the corporation’s chief financial officer once the new CEO started.
Mitchell’s start date and salary will now be the subject of negotiations with Mertz. Rodell finished her tenure as CEO earning $389,000 per year.
Former Anchorage Republican Rep. Jennifer Johnston criticized the hiring process in August as taking too long with the corporation not having a permanent executive director since December. Newly elected board chair Ethan Schutt said last week that as a public body, the corporation had to go through a long procurement process to hire a new CEO and the priority had been finding an “exceptional” pool of candidates.