FirstNet Board Member Voices Concerns with Process and Transparency, Other Members Disagree
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 | Comments

By Sandra Wendelken, Editor

A First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board member voiced concerns with what he called the group’s lack of transparency, lack of input from public safety and potential conflicts of interest. Other members of the board disagreed with the comments during a FirstNet board meeting April 23.

A resolution introduced by FirstNet board member Paul Fitzgerald outlined the concerns and called for changes in the board’s governing process, including more consultation with the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), more review of alternatives before making decisions and full disclosure of consultant compensation and other actions. Other board members were visibly surprised and put off by the resolution, which was tabled by Chairman Sam Ginn after a motion from the board members for further discussion.

Fitzgerald is the sheriff of Story County, Iowa, and president of the National Sheriffs Association (NSA). Fitzgerald testified in a 2011 House hearing about why public-safety needed the D block 700 MHz spectrum.

“I am entrusted by my public-safety officials to represent their interests,” Fitzgerald said during the meeting. “Where are the checks and balances? Where is the transparency? If I don’t know what we are doing, how can the many public-safety members know how the network will meet their needs?”

Fitzgerald outlined three main concerns. First, he said he received a more than 400-page start-up planning document over the weekend. He said the plan requires independent review, testing against alternatives and getting public-safety input before it should be put into place for consideration by the board.

He also said more effort is needed in garnering input from the PSAC. “The PSAC is treated more like a necessary evil than an essential part of the board,” he said. “If we’re not listening to our PSAC, who are we listening to?”

Fitzgerald also expressed concerns with the board’s decision-making process. “Members don’t have equal access to documentation,” he said. “I haven’t had access to financial information. I don’t know how the consultants of FirstNet are being hired or paid. Other directors must have that knowledge.”

All other board members who commented on the motion said they disagreed with Fitzgerald’s views, including the three other members of the board who represent public safety.

“FirstNet has had its growing pains,” said Chuck Dowd, deputy chief of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and FirstNet board member. “Not everything we’ve done so far is perfect. I think Paul brings up some important issues that I think the board is already working to address. From my seat in public safety, I don’t see anyone on this board that I don’t have confidence in and that doesn’t warrant my trust.”

Jeff Johnson, who is leading the board’s outreach efforts, said he doesn’t share Fitzgerald’s viewpoints. “I feel engaged and listened to,” said Johnson, a retired fire chief and CEO of the Western Fire Chiefs Association. “I feel the commercial members of this board have listened and engaged at every turn. I hear your frustration that you’re not getting the information you want. The tonality of this motion makes it appear public safety has reservations of this board, but I don’t think that’s a broadly held view by public safety.”

“I am very satisfied in the direction we’re heading with issues of transparency and making sure our ideas are shared and heard,” said Kevin McGinnis, chief and CEO of North East Mobile Health Services. “I’m very optimistic about our near future and far future and I also do not share the degree of concern that Paul has reflected in this motion. I look forward to analyzing the specific issues he’s raised so we can get past them.”

Ginn, FirstNet chairman, tabled the motion after this comment: “I am troubled by the allegations of misconduct,” he said. “I want those issues dealt with immediately and in some way. I want them dealt with front and center now. I want the board to know whether the allegations are true.”

After the meeting, a FirstNet spokeswoman said the board is undertaking a review of the issues raised by Sheriff Fitzgerald and that details of the review and its result will be made public. Prior to appointment on the FirstNet Board, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) thoroughly vetted each board candidate to identify whether any had conflicts of interests. Board members are also subject to financial disclosure rules. In addition, DoC counsel has been advising the FirstNet board to ensure that its operations are consistent with all applicable federal procurement rules, the spokeswoman said.

FirstNet followed all applicable federal government procurement rules when hiring consultants. The board hired consultants to assist with technical issues, outreach and other critical areas. All consultants signed non-disclosure and conflict of interest statements, she said.

In a press conference after the meeting, Ginn said the board has planned monthly meetings between its network planning group and the PSAC. “We expect that in the future we will continue those meetings, and they will be productive,” Ginn said.

General Manager Announced

Ginn also introduced the board’s new general manager, Bill D’Agostino Jr. D’Agostino is a telecommunications and wireless industry executive with 33 years of experience designing, operating and upgrading telecom networks. He most recently served as executive director, network for Verizon Wireless in Southern California from 2008 – 2012. Prior to that, D’Agostino held executive positions in a number of other communications firms including Sprint PCS, Airtouch Communications and Pacific Bell.

Johnson also provided a status update on the board’s outreach efforts with state and local officials. The board will hold six regional meetings across the country beginning May 15 – 16 in Washington, D.C. Meetings with individual states and territories will follow. All meetings will be completed by early August, he said. 

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