North Liberty’s Mayor Tom Salm died Sunday, May 18, at Mercy Hospital following a sudden heart condition. Salm was 61 years old.
North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar described Salm as North Liberty’s biggest fan.
“In addition to attending almost every community event, Tom was diligent about attending regional events as well,” said Heiar. “Whether an event was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville or somewhere else in the corridor, Tom would be there sporting his North Liberty name tag. He wanted everyone to know that North Liberty is a player in the corridor.”
Salm, a resident of North Liberty for nearly 40 years, first served on North Liberty’s Planning & Zoning Commission from 1999 to 2003. He was elected to city council in November 2003, and became North Liberty’s mayor in April 2007 when he was appointed by the city council to fill the role left by the resignation of former Mayor David Franker. Salm was elected mayor that November, re-elected in 2009 and again in 2013.
Salm worked as a senior project manager at Cedar Rapids environmental and geotechnical engineering firm Terracon. He served on several local boards and commissions during his tenure, including the Highway 965 Task Force, the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County’s Rural Policy Board and the Joint Emergency Communications Center policy board since its inception in 2008. Salm annually traveled Washington, D.C., as part of the local cities’ congressional delegation. He was a regular attendee of regional mayors’ meetings, created a program to recognize new local businesses, and helped raise funding for the North Liberty Community Library expansion.
In addition to his official roles, Salm often volunteered for various community functions, such as the 2008 RAGBRAI event, the annual North Liberty Blues and BBQ festival, and the 2013 Centennial Celebration. He worked with local Boy Scouts, visited schools and regularly ran in the annual North Liberty Fun Run.
Assistant City Administrator Tracey Mulcahey joined the city staff in 2005, and she remembers Salm as the most welcoming council member. Over the years, she watched Salm continually renew his commitment to leadership and service.
“Tom was the kind of leader every community wants,” said Mulcahey. “He had the ability to take the council– and other organizations he led– through tumultuous times with unity and consensus in the end. He was always giving of his time. He attended many events and meetings on his own time, demonstrating his commitment to the City of North Liberty. He went above and beyond all expectations of an elected official all for the greater good of North Liberty.”
Heiar was hired by the city in 2007, and though Salm was one of his superiors, Heiar said Salm was more than just a boss.
“He was a teacher and mentor. He taught me about the community and helped me learn the history of North Liberty, introduced me to community members and helped guide me in challenging situations,” said Heiar. Salm imparted his knowledge as a Terracon engineer to help Heiar understand wells and soil borings, Heiar added. “He loved to talk about that stuff; and anytime I had a mechanical question, I could always ask him. He knew that half the time I didn’t understand the answer, but he explained it to me nonetheless,” said Heiar.
Heiar said Salm became, in some ways, a fatherly figure as well.
“When I was having a bad day or needing some guidance, Tom could sense it when he came into the office. He never pushed me to talk about anything, but I was always comfortable opening up to him and was welcoming of the advice and encouragement he would offer. I am really going to miss our conversations.”
On a personal level, Mulcahey said Salm was always a gentleman.
“He loved to share stories about his family, especially his grandkids; they were the light of his life,” said Mulcahey. “He was very approachable and down to earth. His smile and quick wit are the two things I will miss the most.”
Salm excelled at practicing civility and collaboration to move the city forward, said Heiar, including during a former annexation dispute between North Liberty and Coralville.
“One of Tom’s biggest contributions was his willingness to collaborate with the other community leaders and his understanding that working together as a region was ultimately in the best interest of North Liberty,” said Heiar. “Now we have a new high school soon to be constructed in the area once under scrutiny.”
It is just one example of many, Heiar added, of how Salm contributed to the betterment of the North Corridor and kept the community moving in a positive direction.
“Tom was always able to calmly and rationally discuss an issue, even if others were not as civil. I don’t know that I ever saw him get emotionally charged about an issue at a public meeting,” said Heiar. “He certainly was passionate and would express his thoughts, but he always did so with the utmost respect of others. That is something I hope I can take from him and use throughout the rest of my career.”
Finally, Heiar said, he wanted people to know that Salm did not take the mayoral seat for its accolades or popularity.
“In fact, he often had to make decisions that were not popular, but he knew it was best for the city. People should remember that he le d this community through some difficult growing pains and did so very successfully,” Heiar said. “We are now on the path of success and continue to see positive growth and much of that is due to his selfless leadership.”
Gerry Kuhl, the mayor pro tem who was re-elected to the city council last November, will serve as mayor while the council decides how to fill the position. Options include a short-term appointment or special election.
Lensing Funeral & Cremation will conduct services for Salm. Visitation will be held from 4 until 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 22, at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 3000 12th Ave., Coralville. Funeral services will be held Friday, May 23, at 11 a.m. at St Thomas More.