Committee approves subpoenas in investigation of Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. director’s firing

Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 7:50 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s Legislative Budget and Audit Committee voted to approve sending subpoenas, if necessary, as they press on with an investigation into the abrupt firing of Angela Rodell, the former director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.

Members of the committee met Tuesday and, after discussing a letter sent by the Alaska Department of Law to the committee’s outside counsel hired to perform the investigation, they approved a motion to send subpoenas to 11 individuals, including members of the Permanent Fund Corp.’s board of trustees.

The board removed Rodell as director of the corporation in December, and little information since then has come to light as to why. The legislative committee first held a hearing seeking more answers, and later approved a formal investigation by outside counsel in January, to the tune of $100,000.

After the outside counsel of the firm Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt reached out to members of the Permanent Fund Corp.’s board of trustees to begin the investigation, the Department of Law sent a response letter on March 1 on behalf of the trustees. In the letter, the law department asserted that the legislative committee was overstepping its authority to review operations of the board.

On Tuesday, the Budget and Audit Committee heard from its outside counsel and discussed next steps in the investigation. In the end, its members voted to issue subpoenas to a list of people, with the understanding that the outside counsel will attempt to conduct voluntary interviews first and that subpoenas will be issued at the firm’s discretion.

“Subpoenas are not a direction where we want to go,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, in the hearing. “We hope things go much more positively and much more cooperatively.”

The individuals on the list for possible subpoenas include members of the corporation’s board of trustees — including Chair Craig Richards — as well as Acting Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer Valerie Mertz, Chief Investment Officer Marcus Frampton and members of the corporation’s human resources and communications.

Christopher Slottee with Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt said that the firm will move forward pursuing voluntary interviews, and will only issue subpoenas if those interviews are refused.

“We will ask them to make the individuals identified in the list that the committee’s considering available for a voluntary interview,” Slottee said. “If those individuals decline to appear for a voluntary interview or refuse or fail to respond, it is at that point that we would then serve the subpoenas on them to conduct the deposition.”

He explained that any voluntary interviews would not be under oath. If a member of the list was subpoenaed, that would be a deposition that would take place under oath, but it would not be done in public, Slottee said.

In its March 1 letter, the law department argued the committee’s ability to monitor and report on the corporation’s operations is limited to the Permanent Fund Corp.’s investments and investment programs. Slottee on Tuesday said that’s an “extraordinarily narrow” view of state statute and said that the investigation is within the scope of the committee’s authority.

Also according to the letter, the board of trustees is proposing the legislative committee instead use “an independent party” such as a retired judge to conduct the investigation rather than the outside counsel it already hired. The letter also brought up the possibility of “extensive litigation” if the committee did not abandon its issuance of subpoenas and resolve the other issues the board of trustees’ lawyers raised in the letter.

“If not resolved, these issues and others have the potential to trigger extensive litigation between the Committee and the Corporation,” the letter said. “This is why the Trustees believe that the current approach of the Committee should be reconsidered.”

In handing out the list of interviewees, Committee Chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof said her thoughts are that “if you’ve got nothing to hide, shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Just respond, give the interview, move on,” she said. “But if people refuse, then we’re going to pass out subpoenas.”

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