Challenges are nothing new to John E. Robinson. Fairfax County's first executive director of the Fairfax County Civil Service Commission just finished 22 years of public service in a field often filled with emotionally charged employee grievances.
Robinson, 55, will soon trade in business suits for a coach's uniform as he comes face-to-face with a different set of emotions — those of high-school teens playing lacrosse. Robinson will become a volunteer assistant lacrosse coach at Oakton High School Feb. 25.
Robinson believes his greatest accomplishment was "treating people with dignity and respect. I think people left feeling they got a fair shake."
"THE GRIEVANCE PROCESS is trying because the atmosphere is often adversarial. I tried to instill a sense of dignity and integrity to it," Robinson said. The best part of his job was working with managers and employees, whom he described as "quality people."
"He is a true professional. Calm, focused, and always available for good guidance," said Penelope A. Gross, Mason District supervisor and chair of the Board of Supervisors' Personnel Committee. "He was admired by both labor and management and helped shape the way the county is today."
The Civil Service Commission is a five-member citizen body appointed by the supervisors to serve as a hearing body for employee grievances. The commission also reviews and conducts public hearings on proposed revisions to the county’s personnel regulations.
The supervisors, at their Jan. 27 meeting, presented Robinson with a certificate of recognition and praised him for his contributions to public service in Fairfax County. Robert Greaux, Civil Service Commission chairman, also paid tribute to Robinson’s leadership. He is credited with creating the current procedure for advisory appeals, having them heard by a hearing officer rather than having them heard by the full commission. This approach reduced the backlog of cases requiring a hearing.
At the same meeting, the Employee Advisory Council honored Robinson with the Don Smith Award which recognizes "individual employees of county government who have contributed in an outstanding manner to the well being of their fellow employees."
"John was someone who personified the Civil Service in the county," said Dori DeSpain, a Herndon resident and chair of the Employee Advisory Council. "He was not only a good employee, but a good man. He was always fair and had great integrity. He will be sorely missed."
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy M. Hudgins, in recognizing Robinson said, "While John Robinson had the challenging role of managing an employee mediation process, throughout his tenure he displayed exceptional professionalism engendering confidence, respect and a sense of fairness from the commissioners he served and the county employees."
ROBINSON joined Fairfax County government in 1980 after serving as the Affirmative Action and Minority Affairs coordinator for the Northern Virginia Community College system and concurrently was acting coordinator of its personnel services from 1973 to 1980. He was appointed to the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority in 1974, originally representing Mason District. He left the Housing Authority in 1980 after being named to the Civil Service Commission executive director post.
A native of Greensburg, Pa., Robinson graduated from Edinboro State University in Edinboro, Pa., where he earned a bachelor of arts in sociology. He subsequently did post-graduate work in sociology at The American University in Washington, D.C.
Robinson moved to Herndon in 1978 where he still lives with his wife of 32 years, Mary. The Robinsons have two grown children, a son, 28, living in San Francisco, who is in the computer networking field and a daughter, 29, who is a stockbroker in Santa Fe.
In between his coaching duties, he hopes to travel a bit and think about the future. "I’m too young to fully retire," Robinson said. "I just haven’t yet decided on my next career."
Hudgins acknowledged that finding a new executive director of Robinson's stature will not be easy. "It is now Fairfax County's challenge to ensure that John's replacement is someone who will similarly value the importance of the Civil Service Commission," she said.