HIGHLANDS – When Borough Administrator Kim Gonzales leaves Highlands at the end of the workday Dec. 11, it will be with an attaché bag filled with mixed feelings, a sense of accomplishment, a lot of pride, and a joyful anticipation preparing for the new position she will be start two days later with the Monmouth County Department of Finance.
The administrator has been the borough’s chief administrative officer since first being hired as interim administrator in October 2017, then as full-time permanent in the position less than three months later. Prior to Highlands, she had been an integral part of the Keansburg Finance Department for 14 years. Through the years, she also took numerous courses in both finance and administration at Rutgers and looked at every day as a learning experience and an opportunity to give back to the community she represented.
But the attractive mother of five, who had a unique ability to juggle both her maternal and family obligations as well as the often late night or early morning and weekend meetings for the borough, said she is most pleased of some of the accomplishments she has made possible during her three years in Highlands. Morale, and the importance of showing respect and appreciation were important to her, she said; she leaves feeling she has shown and made all employees feel they are both needed and appreciated. That has been as important, she feels, as the changes she has made in both projects and budgeting, that have saved untold thousands of dollars for taxpayers. Shared services alone has resulted in numerous savings, she said, citing how the borough has switched to Monmouth County services, expertise and accommodations for health issues emergency dispatch services, and state health benefit programs.
Retaining an outstanding public works director has also meant considerable savings in outside contracts, Gonzales pointed out, noting how Department of Public Works Director David Milmoe was accomplished and capable of leading many projects rather than contracting them to outside, more expensive alternatives. Milmoe resigned last month to accept another position in another community, but the borough has already retained Ron Boyce, another outstanding DPW Director with decades of experience, who will continue to lead in the same style and continue to save the borough additional funds.
The administrator also noted that incorporating IBank funding through the state Department of Environmental Protection has resulted in a 50% loan forgiveness and 25% interest forgiveness for replacement of sanitary lines, a project scoped at $5 million.
For whomever is replacing her in the position, Gonzales said her best advice would be to remember “there are a lot of moving parts in Highlands. This is a town with the highest elevations in one part of town, lowest sea level surfaces in another section.
”It’s important for a capable administrator to make on-the-spot decisions, to know how the winds and the moon make a difference tides in a flood event and be aware of the latest programs that are available and could be so beneficial to the borough.”
But, she laughed, it’s also important to know that Highlands is “ the best place to see and hear art and music, the best place for wonderful restaurants, the best place for history and unparalleled view of nature at its best.”
If there’s any one lesson she has learned as administrator of a small town with diverse interests, it’s that “You simply cannot make everyone happy.” But, she added, quickly, “What you can do is treat everyone as equals. It can be quite lonely at the top when you cannot please everyone, but you make sure everyone is equally treated. Working as a team is so very important. Realizing that every person has a special value and a unique talent gives you the opportunity to administer a more perfect government by using each of those indivisible talents in a way that is not only good for the borough but gives the employee an added sense of value.”
Gonzales leaves this position to broaden her own education and experience, to reach out and serve a larger population and to make the most of her own abilities. She also leaves it with the comfort of condition that she has made it possible for “residents and council to be in a better place as I move on.”