Johnson Held Paid Position on Sonim Board While Serving as FirstNet Vice Chair
Wednesday, April 17, 2019 | Comments

Former First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson was a paid director on the Sonim Technologies board of directors from July 2017 to April 2018 at the same time he served on the FirstNet board.

Sonim registered a proposed a $57.5 million initial public offering (IPO) with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this week. The SEC filing said Johnson served as a member of Sonim’s board of directors from July 2017 through April 2018. “For Mr. Johnson’s service as a director from January 1, 2018, through his resignation from the board of directors in April 2018, we paid Mr. Johnson total fees for board service of $25,000 and travel expense reimbursements of $2,208,” a footnote in the filing said.

In April 2018, Sonim announced in a press release that Johnson joined its board of directors. Several days after the Sonim announcement, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced Johnson resigned from his position as a member of the board of Sonim Technologies.

In the IPO filing, both Johnson and former FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson are listed as current directors with Sonim, both having joined the company’s board of directors in March 2019. Johnson and Swenson resigned from the FirstNet board in August 2018.

The Department of Commerce Office of the General Counsel has an ethics law and programs division that outlined 2018 ethics rules for FirstNet employees. The 2018 ethics rules said prohibited actions called a financial conflict of interest include not working on a matter if agency action will affect a company, organization or other entity with which a employee serves on a governing board.

NTIA officials this week declined to respond to questions about whether Johnson’s position at Sonim posed a conflict of interest. An NTIA spokesman referred back to its April 2018 statement.

“While he consulted with ethics officials before joining the board of Sonim and received guidance on the proper recusals, Mr. Johnson determined that FirstNet’s mission would best be served by his resignation in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” the April 2018 NTIA statement said. “We thank Mr. Johnson for his service and dedication to FirstNet.”

In an emailed response to questions, Johnson this week said FirstNet was aware of his role both prior and during his engagement with Sonim. “Ethics had full visibility of my role with Sonim, and I had full ethics approval to participate,” Johnson said in the email. “I took no actions in my capacity at FirstNet that affected Sonim.”

FirstNet officials did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

In March 2018, Sonim announced two new rugged mobile devices — the XP8 and XP5s — to operate on the FirstNet public-safety network.

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