April 12

By James Brooks

The leaders of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. will voluntarily answer questions from a special investigator appointed by the Alaska Legislature to investigate the abrupt firing of former Permanent Fund director Angela Rodell.

A date for the interviews has not yet been set and is subject to further negotiations, but the decision by the corporation’s board of trustees reverses the board’s initial threat to sue the Legislature in order to block the investigation.

“We’re pleased that they are recognizing the committee’s authority to investigate this matter, and we’re waiting for them to propose a schedule for their sworn testimony,” special investigator Howard Trickey said.

In a letter sent Monday to Trickey, Alaska Department of Law attorney Benjamin Hofmeister said the corporation’s trustees agree to depositions under oath at a future date. That message followed an April 5 letter from Trickey in which he said that if the trustees did not agree to voluntarily testify by Monday, he would issue subpoenas requiring them to testify.
“As to these trustees, we don’t intend to issue subpoenas,” Trickey said.

The lone exception is board chairman Craig Richards, who is being represented by Anchorage attorney Robin Brena and not the Department of Law. Trickey declined to discuss Richards’ status, but Richards, reached by phone, said his position is not significantly different.

“I am fully aligned with the other members of the board of trustees,” he said, “and look forward to resolving this issue. The only unique circumstance for me at this point is that I’ve already testified. So I’ve requested clarification as to what the scope of further testimony would be.”

The joint House-Senate Legislative Budget and Audit Committee preapproved subpoenas last month as part of a special investigation that could cost up to $100,000. Lawmakers are attempting to discern whether Rodell was fired as an act of “political retribution” by appointees of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, is the chairwoman of the committee and said she had no comment on the investigation. A special investigator was appointed so lawmakers could hold themselves “at arms’ length” from the matter, she said.

The earnings of the $81 billion Permanent Fund accounted for two-thirds of the state’s general-purpose revenue in the budget passed by lawmakers last spring, and the corporation’s executive director is the lead official in charge of ensuring that investment earnings outpace withdrawals.

Rodell’s firing came after the fund’s best-performing year on record. Dunleavy has denied that he had a role in the decision, and the board’s chairman, Craig Richards, testified that the board had years of “trust problems” with her.

Rodell has hired attorney Jon Choate to represent her and has signed a privacy waiver allowing board members to discuss what happened in a closed-door executive session that preceded her firing at a December corporate meeting.

Trickey said he is also continuing to pursue a series of heavily redacted documents related to the firing.

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