HIGHLANDS – He says he’s been drinking from the firehouse, which is one way of saying he’s working ambitiously to bring himself up to speed on everything. But there is no way around it. Michael Muscillo, the borough’s new administrator, has been on the job since January 1, and, though he came to the position armed with two decades of experience, he readily admits there is always something new to learn in a new community.
The administrator, who holds an undergraduate degree in political science from Montclair State University, and a master’s in public administration from Valdosta State University, is Monmouth County born and bred but admits he knew Highlands before accepting the job more “as an outsider looking in.” Like everyone else, he laughs, he has long since learned from his own experience the outstanding restaurants that lure many to the community.
A graduate of the Long Branch school system, Muscillo and his wife, Taralee and their sons Michael and Sammy, live in Ocean Township, so it is not a long commute for the long days he is putting in to learn in depth all the projects ongoing in the community, and those on the table yet to be completed. He is high on praise for the staff he said, because “in a sense business never stops.” On the other hand, he added appreciatively, “there is a great group of people here and they have gone above and beyond bringing me up to speed.”
But his experience in municipal administration cannot be denied. Over the past 20 years, Muscillo has served as township manager for Ocean Township, the position he left before accepting the Highlands post, borough administrator for Tinton Falls, township manager for Lakewood Township and earlier in his career municipal administrator for Hazlet Township and assistant administrator for Long Branch.
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He’s bringing to his job in Highlands the same tenets he has followed in each of his other positions:
A promise to be accessible. “It’s what I have always done,” the administrator said, in responding to a series of questions about his goals for the borough and how he expects to achieve them, “I will be accessible, listen, and be responsible. Although you would like to please everyone, it’s just not possible. I feel being straight up with people is best; you may not want to hear what I have to say, but I will tell you straight and help to point you in the right direction,” the administrator added.
He is indeed happy to be in Highlands, he enthuses, noting “It is a great up and coming town that has a lot to offer. It’s a great combination of new and older residents with deep community ties.”
Addressing the immediate and long range activities to be acted upon, Muscillo noted that the new borough hall on Navesink Avenue across from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church will require a large amount of time and guidance and is therefore a priority. But there are also a number of other ongoing projects, he said, including infrastructure, park improvements and redevelopment. And all must be handled while at the same time he is continuing to get used to the lay of the land.
Both organization and availability are key to this success as an administrator, and therefore the betterment and smooth running of local government he said. “Getting a firm grip on everything going on to bring myself up to speed is very important.”
While he is a firm believer in keeping up with latest developments in administration at every levels, Muscillo said while he has already been accepted into the Doctorate in Public Administration program at Liberty University, at this time he is not certain when he will be able to attend, or whether that goal will change. For now, he said, “my concentration in on Highlands, getting to know more about every project and activity, and keeping abreast of things that have to be kept on the front burner while not ignoring those that will take a little longer.
The administrator, who replaced Kim Gonzales who left this position to accept a position with Monmouth County government, has a two year contract with a starting salary of $130,000 annually.,