Rilling’s choice for Norwalk HR director gets thumbs up from Personnel Committee

Former Stamford Human Relations Director Emmet Hibson sits through another Norwalk interview Wednesday with the Common Council Personnel Committee.

NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling is asking the city to hire someone he describes as “fair and firm” to be the next personnel director.

Emmet Hibson’s background has some similarities with that of former Norwalk personnel director James Haselkamp – his most recent job was in Stamford, and previously worked in an even bigger city, in this case, New Haven (Haselkamp worked for Bridgeport). He’s also a lawyer.

Rilling touts Hibson’s legal skills as a possible tool toward financial savings in labor negotiations, and said Norwalk’s labor union officials see Hibson as firm but fair, an opinion that is not something he shares in common with Haselkamp.

Hibson’s nomination was unanimously approved Wednesday by the council’s Personnel Committee, and will be voted on Tuesday by the full Common Council.

Wednesday night, the first question came from Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B). Hibson left Stamford just last month after four years on the job as director of human resources. Bowman wanted to know why.

“The new mayor decided to go in a different direction. That was that. Different administration, different party. The mayor had a philosophy with the unions and the new mayor wanted a different one,” Hibson said.

Rilling said he had contacted new Stamford Mayor David Martin, a Democrat, and gotten the same story.

Rilling referred to a “contentious” issue.

Stamford’s professional fire union accused previous Mayor Michael Pavia of attempting to break the union in a dispute over volunteer firefighters, according to news reports.

Hibson called that the biggest issue he had to deal with.

“There they had a very controversial issue,” he said. “It’s been in litigation for a long time. The mayor at the time was very leaning toward the volunteers. The legislature was for charter change. The volunteers and the paid professionals really did not have a good relationship. So I would say that was probably one of my worst dealings and there really wasn’t much you can do. It was probably one of my hardest environments I’ve had to deal with,” he said.

Rilling said he interviewed five people. He was very impressed with Hibson’s resume, his ability to articulate difficult issues and his level of involvement different human relations functions, he said. He would like Hibson to negotiate as much of a contract as he can.

“I’d like to save as much money as we could possibly save rather than going out all the time for 4,5,6,7 different contracts and using outside counsel,” he said. “I know the outside counsel can over the period of a year if they are delivering multiple contracts can cost $200,000 to $300,000 or more. Those are the kinds of savings I’d like to see if we can accomplish by having Mr. Hibson involved to the greatest degree that he possibly can without getting into a situation where he becomes the enemy of the union rather than the friend.”

Rilling said that in his previous role as police chief he was familiar with the process of going to Hartford to settle grievances. Hours are spent, lawyers and negotiators are paid for and it’s an expensive waste, he said.

“You end up doing exactly what you could have done sitting in a room back here,” he said. “So I think with Emmet’s skills and ability you can find some savings, some ways that his ability can be used to save the city some money if it’s something that we feel comfortable with.”

Hibson said he was hired as New Haven’s director of organizational development (labor relations and human resources) in 2008 because of a dispute with the fire department that went to the Supreme Court. “The mayor wanted a lawyer to handle HR,” he said.

Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) asked how being an attorney would influence Hibson’s approach to the job.

“I have been the person who has done not only the negotiation but also put the cases on the majority of the time,” Hibson said. “I’ve also put on my own grievance hearings. So that would be a comfort level the city would have, whether they are comfortable with me doing that or not. That is a conversation that I guess I would have with the Corporation Counsel’s office. … I think there’s a balance there and I’ll tell you why. For the majority of the stuff that you do, day to day, routine grievances, I think its fine to handle inside. When you have issues that are potentially sticky and could cause problems and hard feelings in those cases I think it makes sense to outsource. That’s typically what we did in New Haven. The mayor would make a decision.”

Hibson and Rilling had lunch with the president of the firefighters union, Rilling said. He has been told that Hibson is acceptable to the firefighters and police unions, Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Local 2405, Rilling said.

All of those unions endorsed Rilling in his bid for election, saying they wanted to be treated with “respect.”

“Everybody they checked with said Emmet was not only firm but fair in his dealings and they felt comfortable that he was a person with whom they could sit down and discuss things and try to get things resolved,” Rilling said.

Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C) said she had contacted Norwalk’s police and firefighters unions and gotten positive feedback about Hibson. Councilman Glenn Iannacone (R-At Large) also said he had called the firefighters union.

Bowman asked about diversity hiring. Hibson they had very active campaigns in New Haven to try to get residents on the police and fire departments. They recruited in the schools, although potential police officers had to wait until they were 21. They advertised in nightclubs and on radio stations to broaden the pool, he said.

One more thing.

“Out of 20 contracts in New Haven, I only had to go to arbitration one time,” Hibson said. “We were able to deal with it without going to arbitration. We were able to get fair contracts.”


11 responses to “Rilling’s choice for Norwalk HR director gets thumbs up from Personnel Committee”

  1. anonymous

    Glad to hear all the unions are happy, no ‘respect’ for taxpayers. Rilling will save $300,000 in legal fees and spend millions in added salary and benefits.

  2. John Hamlin

    The unions will always be happy if you give them all or most of what they want.

  3. anon

    A retired fireman & spouse of fireman comprise the Personnel Committee, and that on the Republican side? With watchdogs like this , taxpayers have no chance. Pass the gravy, we’re cooked.

  4. axman

    Can you say conflict of interest? Are there any ethic policies in place in this city? But just wait am willing to bet that thoses two vote against a few things coming up that will involve the fire department but will it be for the right reasons? Will thier future votes be in the best interest of Norwalk or will they vote for personal reasons? Time will tell.

  5. Anonymous

    Very few vote for what’s in the best interest of the city. Most vote based on political favors and to “pay back” others who they feel have wronged them in the past. What’s best for the city is irrelevant.

  6. newsfreak203

    I would like to know why Rilling would seek this guy if, Stamford fired him and as a new mayor (just like Stamford’s new mayor) find candidates with no baggage.

    It seems that Norwalk only hires department heads that get fired other municipalities.

  7. LWitherspoon

    “He has been told that Hibson is acceptable to the firefighters and police unions, Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Local 2405, Rilling said.”
    I’m not surprised that Mayor Rilling asked the Union heads whether or not they approve his appointment of the person who will be in charge of negotiating with them. What surprises me is that he would brag to NoN about having done so.
    When was the private lunch between the Mayor, the head of the firefighters union, and the new head of personnel? Was it before or after the choice was revealed to taxpayers?

  8. Jack R

    Nancy, look it up. The mayor today signed an agreement giving a 2405 employees 2 days suspension pay back, after the employee was disciplined a while ago by his supervisors. The mayor did this on his own after secret meeting with the union bosses. Ask him about it. The public needs to kow about these behind the door deals already.

  9. piberman

    No one should be surprised Mayor Rilling chose Stamford’s former personal director who advocates “fairness” and avoiding disputes with City unions. After all Mayor Rilling made “fairness” a central campaign issue as did City unions. Any City that’s boosted spending spending 55% over the two past decades while City incomes have barely budged has a “fairness” issue. Certainly a modest income City like Norwalk has a “fairness” issue with with 5th highest paid City teachers in the state. Looks like the only ones who aren’t being treated with “fairness” are City taxpayers.

    We’re now coming to the “main event” of Mayor Rilling’s term of office. The only way to reverse the Great Norwalk Exodus where renters are replacing home owners is to bring the City budget under control to where its affordable and that means reducing the school budget if not hot holding the line.

    We’ll soon learn whether the current BOE remains committed to binding arbitration to reign in excessive teacher salaries. If Mayor Rilling supports the BOE to create affordable teacher salaries he’ll be remembered as Norwalk’s real “change agent”. If not then its back to business as usual in Norwalk and the Great Exodus continues. Norwalk’s been “fair” to everyone but its taxpayers and the smarter ones are heading out. Even City workers don’t live here anymore. Not even our new Personnel Director.

    Mayor Rilling certainly has his work cut out for him with the “fairness” card. Everyone knows our future with the state’s 5th highest teacher salaries, stagnant home values and Grand List. It’s called spending our way to Bridgeport – once CT’s most important City.

  10. Michelle Maggio

    I don’t think I would ever be so insecure as to make a comment under anything other than my name!! So sad.

  11. Anonymous

    Good Luck Norwalk! Hibson was the “face of incompetence” down in New Haven and hopefully his tenure will be short-lived in Norwalk.

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