Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. has gone too long without an executive director

August 23, 2022 3:42 pm

A sign directs voters to a polling place near the offices of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board of trustees has gone too long without hiring an executive director. It’s been more than nine months since the board fired Angela Rodell from the job, and the board has spent little time in public session at its meetings discussing the vacancy or its hiring plan.

The Legislature is wise to continue its investigation into the firing, and the board of trustees should always keep in mind the corporation’s mission: The APFC board of trustees sets investment policy, reviews the portfolio’s performance and works together with management to determine the corporation’s strategic direction.

It was eight months ago when the chair of the board of trustees expressed “shock” that the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee was concerned over the firing of Rodell on Dec. 9, 2021. While the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee has oversight responsibilities, the board of trustees holds a fiduciary responsibility for prudent fiscal management of the state’s savings.

I question whether such a long absence without an executive director is good fiscal management.

It is no secret that I have a great deal of respect for Ms. Rodell. She modernized and secured our assets at a time when many other financial and state institutions have been hacked. She also improved financial efforts by bringing a great deal of our investment management in house. This allowed the fund to grow at a much faster rate with access to private equity and fewer large management fees.

Yet, in the aftermath of the firing, there are too many lingering questions that need answers: Why did the trustees meet twice in July to discuss employees’ compensation?  Why have there been multiple high-level resignations, including the manager of the corporation’s highest-earning investments and the entire three-person team in charge of finalizing trades? Does this sound like an organization posed for solid growth in a very volatile market?

Will anyone of Ms. Rodell’s caliber be interested in coming into an organization that is bleeding competent employees? Could this be the issue the trustees are having recruiting an executive director to lead our most valuable state asset? Or is it the politicization of the fund that makes recruiting difficult? Or is it all of the above?

All we can hope for is the current employees who are trying their best hang in there and the trustees go back to their original mission: In service to their fellow Alaskans, the Board of Trustees ensures that the Alaska Permanent Fund is managed and invested in a manner consistent with legislative findings in Alaska Statutes 37.13.020 that provide:

  • The Permanent Fund should provide a means of conserving revenue from mineral resources to benefit all generations of Alaskans.

  • The Permanent Fund’s goal should be to maintain safety of principal while maximizing total return.

  • The Permanent Fund should be used as a savings device managed to allow the maximum use of disposable income from the fund for the purposes designated by law.

As the trustees said in a March 29 response to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee:

“As Alaskans, we can all agree that the investment and management of the Alaska Permanent Fund must be held to the highest of standards – those of fiduciary duty, uncompromising integrity, political independence, and straightforward accountability. In accordance with these standards, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, our Trustees and our staff are fully committed to the long-term interests of the Alaska Permanent Fund and the public that we serve.”

That should mean filling the job of executive director soon.

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Jennifer Johnston
Jennifer Johnston

Jennifer Johnston is a former state representative and the Anchorage Assembly, representing portions of South Anchorage. In the Legislature, she served as co-chair of the House Finance Committee.