The board of directors of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. named Deven Mitchell, the acting head of the Alaska Department of Revenue, as the company’s new CEO.
The board voted unanimously Monday night to approve the pick and direct interim CEO Valerie Mertz to open salary negotiations with Mitchell.
The decision came after a special meeting that included hours of closed-door debate and a day of public interviews with three finalists.
Board Chairman Ethan Schutt said Mitchell’s 30 years of service, including time as head of the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority and as state debt manager , were important to the selection, as was his reputation for honesty before the Alaska Legislature.
“He has a long history of representing the state in important and sometimes innovative financial matters. So that reputation and his reputation across the state, with the legislature, and in various jurisdictions was very important to us,” Schutt said.
The board’s choice of Mitchell ended a 10-month replacement process required when the board fired former CEO Angela Rodell in December after a series of disputes caused board members to lose faith in Rodell.
Rodell claimed his firing was “political retribution” from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, but a special investigation ordered by the Alaska Legislature revealed last month that the governor had not ordered his dismissal.
“My bottom line is that he’s a great, great choice,” said Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage and chair of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, which oversees the Permanent Fund corporation.
Former Anchorage Republican state legislator Jennifer Johnston was among those who criticized Rodell’s firing and the length of time the company has been without a CEO.
On Tuesday, she said the selection of Mitchell, born in Cordoba and raised in Juneau, was a good decision.
“He’s lived in the state his whole life, and he understands Alaska and understands the long-term purpose of the fund, and he has a financial background. This is what it takes,” she said.
Mitchell has worked under several governorships, including Republican, Democratic and independent officials.
“I don’t feel like it’s a political appointment, and I think it’s very important,” Johnston said.
Mitchell’s start date and salary are subject to negotiation with the company, but he’s likely to be one of the highest-paid employees in the state when finished.
Rodell earned $386,513 in salary in 2021, not including extra expenses. At a special meeting earlier this year, preliminary findings indicated that Permanent Fund employees are underpaid compared to similar positions in the lower 48. A comprehensive salary study was commissioned earlier this year.
The $72 billion Permanent Fund Corp. is Alaska’s most scrutinized state corporation due to its importance to the state’s economy. An annual transfer from the Permanent Fund to the Treasury represents between half and two-thirds of general government revenue, depending on the price of oil.
This transfer pays for the government services and jobs that employ thousands of Alaskans, and it funds the Permanent Fund’s annual dividend.
Investments managed by Permanent Fund Corp. must generate sufficient income to compensate for the annual transfer. Otherwise, the amount of money available for dividends and services will decrease in the long run, leading to service cuts or tax increases.
Board members have previously said they believe the company’s CEO should focus primarily on managing people and that investment decisions should be left to the company’s CIO, Marcus Frampton.
Mitchell lacks significant investment experience, and Schutt said that’s not an attribute the board is looking for.
He said the board wanted someone who could hire and build an investment team, and that Mitchell’s knowledge of state government and his relationship with the legislature are positive attributes.
“It was very, very nice to have this package,” Schutt said.
To replace Rodell, the company’s board hired an executive search firm, People AK, on a $76,000 contract earlier this year, and that company received between “120 and 130” applications, a report said. company staff said Monday.
Between “80 and 90 technical skills” based on a review of CVs and qualifications, and phone interviews narrowed the pool of candidates to 10.
Those names were forwarded to a hiring committee that included board members and APFC staff, narrowing the number of applicants to a final three, who were interviewed Monday.
In addition to Mitchell, the latest options included Morgan Neff, chief investment officer of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, and Melanie Hardin, a Verizon executive who previously worked for Charles Schwab in London.
Mitchell said he submitted his candidacy in early August, a month before he was named acting commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue. Responding to a trustee’s question, he said he sent in his application, went sheep hunting and didn’t tell outgoing commissioner Lucinda Mahoney until late August.
By law, the revenue commissioner has a seat on the Permanent Fund Corp. board of directors, and Mitchell has retired from CEO discussions and most meeting activities.
“There was no engineering behind the scenes and there was no communication from the governor’s office,” Schutt said.
Mitchell has 30 years of experience in various roles at the Department of Revenue and noted that the department and FPAC frequently exchange staff, even at the CEO level. Rodell, the former CEO, served as state treasurer and state revenue commissioner before being hired in 2015. One key difference: Rodell was not in that role when she was hired; Mitchell will move from job to job.
Mitchell said the chairman of the bond bank’s board encouraged him to apply for the job, as did Larry Persily, a former Department of Revenue official, traveling journalist and energy expert who now works as a special political adviser to Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska.
Persily and Mitchell met while passing through an airport. Persily said he told Mitchell that if the board was looking for an investment expert, he probably wasn’t the right person, but if he was looking for someone to manage people and appear before the Alaska Legislature , he had the right experience.
Schutt said that in the coming months, the board will not view investment returns as a measure of Mitchell’s success or failure. Instead, the board will review the new CEO’s interactions with the board and staff.
In particular, Mitchell will need to address a significant number of vacancies within the company and seek to fill those positions with new hires or rehires. The company is also in the middle of its budgeting process for the next fiscal year.
“I think the board and staff, for one person, are really excited to have someone come on board now and head into a positive and optimistic future for APFC. We’re really, really excited to turn the page and focus on the positive,” Schutt said.
This story originally appeared in the Alaska Beacon and is republished here with permission.