NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk has a new director of personnel and labor relations.
Emmet Hibson received bipartisan praise before being unanimously approved Tuesday by the Common Council. Hibson, who held a similar position in Stamford, said he will begin work Thursday.
Peter Thor, director of policy and planning for AFSCME Council 4, said unions look for a personnel director who is reasonable and interested in gaining settlements.
“By that we don’t mean accepting the position of the union, but rather hearing the position of the union just as we expect that in order to get a settlement we must hear the position of the employer,” he said. “That’s the ideal in labor relations and it works very well.”
With 30,000 members and 500 separate bargaining units in Council 4, it wasn’t difficult to find people who had been in negotiations with Hibson, he said.
“What I found was that he was cooperative, kept to his word, he was responsible and he was interested in getting settlements, not just taking a hard line that forced the parties up the line into various stages of litigation including arbitration, both contract arbitration and salary arbitration, which we believe should be left to issues where you simply can’t find a settlement,” he said.
Det. David Orr, president of the police union, said he had also looked into Hibson.
“I did what any good cop does, I did a background check on him,” he said.
Orr said he spoke to close to a dozen people who had dealt with Hibson, including union leaders and labor attorneys.
“Each of them had positive things to say about him,” Orr said, “that he was approachable and was agreeable to having conversations about issues rather than directing them right to formal litigation up at the labor board. Some of the labor attorneys said that they were able to resolve some issues with him without going to the labor board in a manner that was pleasing to them and to the cities.”
“We also did a little bit of investigating on him,” Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said. “Three qualities seem to have come up and I think it’s pretty clear that these are qualities that you want in a personnel director, that he’s tough but he’s fair and he’s respectful. I really can’t think of any more than these three attributes that lend to an atmosphere of having being able to have open dialog when issues come up.”
Councilman John Igneri (D-District E) said he enjoyed the “pleasant conversation” with Hibson at the Personnel Committee meeting.
“I was impressed with the fact that he likes not to go to arbitration,” Igneri said. “Everyone who spoke for him brought up that point. He will first look for a way to negotiate and look for a way not to go to arbitration. I think the city needs more of that.”
Mayor Harry Rilling said there had been 67 applications, which were culled by a team of professionals. They interviewed 10 candidates and forwarded five to him, he said.
“I would say that Mr. Hibson was head and shoulders above the rest,” he said. “He brings with him a tremendous resumé. I also think he brings with him a philosophy of trying to work harmoniously with both sides. That was really important to me that we have someone that is approachable, is available. He has committed to me his obligation to meet with members of the Common Council, members of the various unions. … There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to be a tremendous addition to the city.”