Salem Council member James Martin talks goals, city’s future ahead of election

Shawn Nowlin |

Submitted photo James Martin

Some of the best advice James Martin has ever received came from his late father: “When things go wrong, as they sometimes will; When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill; When the funds are low, and the debts are high; You want to smile, but you have to sigh; When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.”

That notion is a big reason why Martin is running for re-election to Salem City Council. Martin was originally elected to city council in May of 2016, and officially sworn in on July 1, 2016, by Clerk of Court Chance Crawford.

A 1991 graduate of Salem High, Martin earned a football scholarship to Concord University in Athens, West Virginia, where he earned a Double-Major Bachelor’s degree in Geographic Information Systems and Political Science. Later, he earned a Master’s degree from Marshall University focusing on Urban Planning and Information Systems.

Today, Martin is a Sales Executive with an industrial software company serving manufacturing companies in North America and Europe.

“I’ve learned that serving a single-term on city council really isn’t enough time to address our most pressing issues. Most of anyone’s first term is essentially learning processes and procedures to merely begin to align city resources to any new solutions we have to the many challenges Salem faces,” he said. “The bottom line is there is more work to do to follow thru on the progress that’s been made.

Martin serves on the multiple Boards, Committees and Commissions: City of Salem Audit-Finance Appropriations Committee, Roanoke Valley-Allegheny Regional Planning Commission (RVARC), Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) Board and Salem Education Foundation & Alumni Association (SEFAA) Board.

He and his wife, Tanya, live in Salem with their son.

Why are you running for Salem City Council?

I’m running for re-election to Salem City Council because four years ago, I started a journey to give back what our city gave me so many years ago growing up in the form of love, support, challenges and encouragement to become something better than what I already was. There are long term issues like rebuilding our infrastructure, renovating Salem High School, recruiting and diversifying our economy, providing innovative public services and investing and encouraging our people today we need to solve.


What do you consider some of the most critical issues facing Salem today?

The idea of defining the most critical people, processes and technology needed to perform the highest value services, maintenance and capital improvements in prioritizing work is how I approach my day job with industrial manufacturers in North America and Europe. I use the same methodology in addressing the most critical city issues based on the probability and consequence of failure. That said, the top three most critical issues I’ve identified are 1) aging infrastructure (utilities, community buildings, transportation, etc.) 2) rising cost of services (trash collection, water distribution, electricity transmission and distribution, electronic business transactions, etc.) 3) defining an economic development ecosystem (inventory of existing local businesses, supporting regional/national supply chain vendors, available local commercial growth properties with a tactical business plan to connect and grow local commercial revenue). We face other challenges but these three are consistently top of mind for me.


Where were you born and raised?

My family has deep roots in Salem and Roanoke County. I was born at Roanoke Memorial Hospital in 1973. At that time, my mother (Andrew Lewis High School Class of 1964) worked at Northside High School and my father was an Operations Manager designing and implementing computer systems with the Roanoke Merchants’ Association where he leveraged his experience from the U.S. Air Force and the General Electric plant in Salem. As the economy turned in the late 70s and early-mid 80s, my mother went to work as a sales manager with Blue Ridge Copiers on Main Street selling office equipment and my father went to work as a long-distance truck driver for Singer Furniture in Roanoke to make ends meet. The experiences of moving households because of job changes and being forced to make choices between buying groceries and paying utility bills shaped how I make tough financial decisions today, both personally and now with the tax money our citizens trust the City of Salem with. The first experience I can remember of being part of the “Salem Family” was in the third grade at East Salem Elementary when two Salem Parks & Recreation youth football coaches came to my house and asked me to play. I did, and that turned into ten years of wearing a Salem jersey that made me feel included and worth investing in. That couldn’t be taken away because of a job loss or bad economy. It also became my ticket to a college education. Being able to survive, stabilize and grow from these experiences with help from my Salem Family and my mother’s Back Creek/Dry Henderson clan, is part of the reasons why we chose to move home when my son was born in 2011. My lesson in all of that was people in Salem care about each other, always give more than they expect to receive and do little things for others that turn into making big dreams real for someone else. This is why I try to give back to the City of Salem.


How would you describe your relationship with the City of Salem?

My relationship with the City of Salem is a continuous improvement loop and built on respect. We are both very much works in progress experiencing highs, lows and highs again as we learn along the way. The bold idea that a small “city” of 25,000 people in Southwest Virginia with neighboring adjacent localities of 100,000 people each claimed independence to become its own city 50 years ago is still amazing to me. The city then (to this day, as I am now) does not have all the answers to every question as to how best to lead and manage ourselves in every situation. We all know life can be difficult with ever-changing conditions and circumstances to overcome and learn from. We all try, learn and try again to ultimately get and make things right for ourselves and those who depend on us. I think the city (our people and organization) and I mostly encourage and pray for each other to do well in making the best decisions and getting the most of what we have to offer – and that’s a lot! Salem is a great place to live, work, play and make our homes. We have honorable people, safe neighborhoods and streets, family-friendly sports entertainment and access to a great education for both the young and old. I believe it’s my job to help, renew and improve the best parts of Salem without compromising our values or losing respect for how Salem came to be.


What separates you from the other candidates?

I am an authentic, multi-generational City of Salem family product who graduated from Salem High School in 1991 that allowed me to pursue and achieve a 1996 Bachelor’s degree and a 2003 Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and Information Systems. My professional experience includes 20 plus years providing information technology solutions for local governments, branches of the military and private businesses becoming more efficient land use, utility and water resource issues throughout the southeastern United States.

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