FirstNet board actions deemed legal by review committee

The Special Review Committee investigating the First Responder Network Authority issued its initial report, finding that FirstNet board members broke no laws and have complied with statutory requirements for development of the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN). Nonetheless, the board chairman acknowledged FirstNet could stand to improve its processes.

The committee was set up to address allegations leveled by Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald, a FirstNet board member, during an April 23 board meeting. The review committee was subsequently set up with Fitzgerald's fellow board member Wellington Webb as head.

The initial report examined the board's openness and transparency, access to information and NPSBN network planning. 

Fitzgerald had contended that the board's briefings prior to public meetings and bi-weekly calls were not conducted in a transparent manner and that decisions were made privately at these meetings rather than in public session. The committee concluded that the meetings were informational in nature and "did not constitute decision making, voting or otherwise narrow options in such a manner so as to preclude issues that would appropriately be considered by the board in public session."

The sheriff also stated that he had been left out of personnel-related decisions. Despite repeated requests to Acting General Manager Craig Farrill and CFO Randy Lyon, "I was never provided with our consultants' rates, statements/scope of work, contract information, qualifications in public safety, or information about the 'objective' qualifications against which they were hired," he said.

The review committee acknowledged that certain board members, such as Farrill, had unequal access to financial information because they were also acting in managerial capacities until staff members could be hired.

Another of Fitzgerald's assertions concerned the "Company Start Up Planning Document" that was circulated in late 2012. Some observers felt this document constituted an actual network plan, and Fitzgerald said the document reflected such an advanced state of development that meaningful state stakeholder impact on FirstNet's operations was effectively precluded.

The document was "the result of brainstorming" and was not a network plan, the committee said. "FirstNet's consultation process for public-safety stakeholders is extensive and ongoing," it added.

Fitzgerald said he was encouraged by the report, though he was initially concerned by its focus on "legality vs. illegality." The sheriff noted his April 23 motion did not assert laws were broken "but instead called out that some of our processes and procedures should be improved upon and that we were not operating at the best-practice levels that I hoped we would."

"It's one thing to meet the statutory requirements, but it's another thing to basically have a highly effective board and have it do its job well," said FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn. "There will come a time when we will review our processes and hopefully improve them and as a result do a better job."

Webb said the Special Review Committee would decline to issue recommendations until it produces its second report, on procurement and ethics, in coming months. However, Fitzgerald curiously indicated that the report he saw provided recommendations regarding revisiting meeting openness, involving the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) and ensuring equal access to documents and financial information for all board members.

A FirstNet spokeswoman reiterated to FierceBroadbandWireless that there were no recommendations in this first report. "The Special Review Committee will develop recommendations for the full board once the full review is completed," she said.

For more:
- see this FirstNet committee report (PDF) and this FirstNet resolution (PDF)
- see this Multichannel News article
- see this Urgent Communications article
- see this MissionCritical Communications article

Related articles:
FirstNet investigation ongoing, initial report nearing completion
FirstNet's Fitzgerald provides update on Special Review Committee
FirstNet appoints special review committee to investigate its practices
The fur is flying at FirstNet
Mutiny at FirstNet as board member alleges improprieties