On December 16, 2009, Haroon Saleem (b. 1954), proprietor of the Timberline Café, is sworn in as the mayor of Granite Falls in Snohomish County. A native of Pakistan and a Muslim, Saleem defeated incumbent mayor Lyle Romack in a landslide victory on November 3.
Granite Falls, a small town of about 3,300 people in Snohomish County, lies in the foothills of the Cascades, between the Pilchuck and the South Fork Stillaguamish rivers. It was incorporated in 1903 and its past is tied to mining, logging, shingle manufacture, and recreation. Granite Falls is the gateway town to locations along the scenic Mountain Loop Highway. Most of its working residents are employed out of town. Saleem had run the Timberline Café there since 2000.
Finding a Place in Granite Falls
Haroon Saleem, the youngest of five children, was born in Rawalpindi, a city near Islamabad, in Pakistan. The family was well educated and prosperous. Haroon's father imported and resold glassware, silverware, and china. When the business faltered, Haroon decided to work with his father instead of completing college. Upon his father's death, Haroon, at age 20, took an internship in a hotel to learn the business but soon turned to more lucrative construction work in Iran. Political turmoil soon erupted there and he found little to do but play cards and gamble. He was unlucky, lost his money, and returned home. A friend helped finance his way to the United States in 1979. He entered on a visitor visa and decided to stay.
After years of working in restaurants and driving cabs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Saleem came to Western Washington where he worked at a Jack-in-the-Box right after the E coli outbreaks. He next took a job at a Shari's restaurant. Then, in 2000, Saleem and his wife, Bushra, began operating the Timberline Café and lounge at 116 E Stanley Street in Granite Falls. The community embraced the couple and their business prospered.
Regarding his acceptance by the town's citizens, Saleem told a reporter in 2009:
"That tells you how good and great a community Granite Falls is. They didn't care. I am who I am, and people love me for that, and I just love people. People know I am smart, I am a businessman. In the big scheme of things, all these qualities have made me, got me where I am today" ("In WA, Old Mining Town ...").
From Mining and Manufacturing to Meth
Tremendous growth in the first decade of the twenty-first century brought problems and, like many similar small towns in the United States, Granite Falls had to cope with drug trafficking. For Granite Falls the problem has chiefly been methamphetamine. The town drew national media attention in January 2003 when Rolling Stone magazine ran a feature on the effects of meth on small communities. In the article, Granite Falls was dubbed "Methville," the name given it by local students. Most of the meth being dealt in Snohomish County was high-quality "ice" (crystal meth) brought in from Mexico.
In 2010 several dozen people were arrested in a drug bust that included a former Granite Falls mayor, Floyd "Dutch" DeRosia, who was convicted of selling marijuana twice to undercover officers. But DeRosia's problems began earlier when he was forced to resign as mayor in 2003 amid harassment allegations. An interim mayor took his place until 2004, when Lyle Romack was elected mayor.
The Campaign to Clean Up
Three candidates entered the 2009 mayoral race: café proprietor Haroon Saleem, Boeing quality-assurance inspector Paul Lutz, and incumbent mayor Lyle Romack. Saleem ran an aggressive campaign against Romack, then under investigation for improper management of city funds. An audit the previous year had pointed to bookkeeping deficiencies. (Evidence against Romack included some double-paid mileage charges, which he repaid). Whether this was intentional misappropriation or negligence was a question. The town had suffered city job losses during that time, including the position of city clerk, but many in the community saw Mayor Romack's actions as theft of public funds.
Saleem won the election with 60.8 percent of the vote, which he saw as a mandate to clean up city hall. Thus he began his term as mayor facing a city council whose motives and ethics he had questioned and a police chief, Tony Domish, who he believed disrespected him. Saleem and Domish had tangled over the Timberline's bar, which Domish said generated a disproportionate number of 911 calls due to intoxicated drivers and bar fights. At a city council meeting in the fall of 2008, Saleem gave a list of incidents that showed, he felt, that Romack and city police had unfairly harassed him. Romack said he had looked into the issue and found no substance to the charges.
A Tumultuous Term
Once in office, Saleem argued with council members over dismissing Chief Domish. Saleem listed allegations against Domish, who eventually resigned. In leaving, Domish received a costly severance settlement which became a contentious issue for those who saw it as more evidence of city corruption.
The controversy over Domish was just the beginning of a tumultuous term for Saleem. He feuded with and eventually fired another police chief; disagreements with his landlord led to his café being closed, and the building eventually demolished; and Saleem was himself arrested following an argument with relatives at Sea-Tac Airport, although no charges were filed. Saleem did not run for re-election in 2013.