HIGHLANDS, NJ – “We can do better in keeping the residents of Highlands well informed; with my background in Information Technology and my professional experience I feel confident I can make this happen,” said Donald Melnyk, one of four candidates seeking one of the two three year terms on the borough council in the November election.
Melnyk is vying for one of the seats being vacated by incumbents Rosemary Ryan and Ken Braswell and has a strong background in Information Technology. In the profession for close to 15 years, he is employed as a team leader by Healthfirst Company in New York City, a firm that offers affordable health insurance plans including financial assistance for qualified customers.
Running for elected office for the first time, Melnyk feels he is in a place both personally and professionally so he can put everything he has into meeting the responsibilities and obligations of the position.
The candidate also said that his experience, over nearly ten years his family has been a part of Highlands, let him see the town in times of disaster and of celebration. “I believe that serving on council, at this time, is the best way for me to give back to the town that has given us so much. “ The Melnyks purchased a home here in the Bayview complex in 2011 and spent summers here. Soon, summers and weekends. They returned to Garfield for their son’s school year. We “finally came to terms with the fact that there was just no place we would rather be than Highlands,” and moved here permanently in 2017.
Keeping the residents informed is a definite priority for Melnyk, starting with face to face open communication, as well as becoming more adept and professional with electronic means of communication, especially necessary during the current Covid-19 crisis. That could start with a significant refresh of the borough’s website. “Whether that’s Council Meetings or simply a visit to the municipal office, I feel talking with people face to face is the most effective way of communicating,” he said.
Melnyk noted the present Covid-19 restrictions have shown that since person to person contacts are not always an option, “the borough must adjust to make it as easy and accessible as possible for residents to communicate with the governing body.” To make information more consumable, the candidate feels Zoom meetings covering everything from Public Works projects to upcoming events will be helpful. “Finding information should not feel like going on a treasure hunt. When facts are hard to find, people have a natural tendency to fill in the gaps on their own, leading to confusion and distrust. We can do better, and this type of transformation is something with which I have direct experience in delivering,” Melnyk explained.
Other priorities Melnyk would address as a councilmember are improving how Highlands can attract and retain business investments, a move that would increase the tax revenue stream, reducing the load on residential property owners, working with the Land Use Board to provide a counterbalance for new businesses by providing clear guidance from the start and maintaining standards and ideals that make it clear Highlands is open for business.
Melnyk’s third goal would be maintaining the small business atmosphere, the charm of the family restaurants and local shops and especially since the Covid crisis, supporting these businesses who continue to face the challenges the year has brought. The governing body should look to support and expand the creativity already designed by these shop and restaurant owners, he said.
The challenge of meeting and speaking with town residents in advance of the election poses the largest challenge to the candidate currently, he said, since well-used meet and greet rallies, and door to door visitations are made more difficult by the Covid restrictions. “ While it is impossible to ignore social media, I am continuing to find more ways of reaching out to new folks – by person to person sessions, Zoom meetings, phone calls, and knocking on doors.” It is a challenge he loves, he said, and “at the end of this campaign season, win or lose, I will have benefited from the interaction with residents – both old and new.”
As a successful candidate, Melnyk said he is certain what he thinks might be the most difficult part of the position now will change over his tenure, but he believes at first finding a way to cut through divisive rhetoric will be a challenge. He decries legitimate differences of opinion that evolve into personal attacks, name calling, and meme wars, and believes finding the right balance between keeping folks engaged (especially online) and keeping the conversation respectful and constructive is difficult but can be achieved.
Because of the unique topography of Highlands, Melnyk agrees there are different concerns based on location, and all must be addressed. As an example he cited storm impact on the borough, where flooding is the primary problem at the base of the hill and havoc from storms like the recent Isaias seriously impact homes on the hill. During the recent story, many homes on the hill were ruined, sometimes because of property owners failing to maintain infrastructure improvements primarily for utilities. But these are all major issues that cannot be resolved by borough leaders alone, so Melnyk would work with county, state and federal agencies to deliver solutions for all areas of the borough. “Service to the town must include the ability to relate to our entire population, not just those who most resemble ourselves.”
Melnyk is in agreement with other candidates and council members who believe the borough should continue its current practice of not providing any stipend or renumeration for serving on council.
“I believe that candidates should be in a place personally and professionally to serve. “My own motivation is simply the privilege of service; any funds in the borough budget are better spent on the employees of Highlands and programs for our residents.”
The Melnyks have been married 22 years and have one son, Dylan, a student at Henry Hudson Regional School.. The candidate’s’ wife, Gina, is a member of the Highlands Board of Education and frequently hosts events for the Book Club and Rock Painting as part of the Sandy Foot Society. They own their condominium at Twin Lights Terrace.
Melnyk’s website, www.friendsofdon2020.org, has posts from himself as well as a means to message and set up for others to connect. Many Facebook p[ages also include his initial announcement in July when he announced his candidacy.