by DAVE TURNER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen elected officials from North Idaho and Eastern Washington meet next Thursday at the Greyhound Park and Event Center to talk about water, they'll be greeted by Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin. It was Larkin, after all, who extended the invitation for the meeting during an aquifer conference last May, when the U.S. Geological Survey released the results of its study on the sustainability of the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for a half million people in the two states. As a result of the study, the USGS developed a computer model for how to better understand and manage the underground river and its recharge areas.
After the conference, Larkin says, he was contacted by Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession: "He wanted us to get together and carry on the discussion."
It took longer than Larkin had hoped to get the meeting scheduled, which leaves him some doubt about what it will accomplish, but he says he's keeping an open mind and hoping the discussion will lead to officials in the two states working to protect the quantity and quality of the region's drinking water.
Larkin's zeal to protect the aquifer is also reflected in the leadership role he has taken to manage growth and control urban sprawl on the Rathdrum Prairie. Post Falls' population is predicted to soar to 100,000 by 2030, making it possibly the largest city in North Idaho. Coeur d'Alene is landlocked, Larkin says, meaning the natural growth for the county is to the west toward the Washington border. Later this year, he says the mayors of Hayden and Rathdrum, which share areas of city impact on the Rathdrum Prairie, will sit down with him and discuss how growth can be managed.
"That way, we can map out how big the city will be when it's an old-timer," he says.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t a time when most people are considering retirement, the 71-year-old Larkin said he's not ready to leave office. "Ask me again in two years," he says.
Larkin was born in Unity, N.H. He graduated from Bolton (N.Y.) Central High School before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1953, leaving after 12 years as a staff sergeant. After his discharge, he went to Wyoming and later attended North Idaho College, studying to be a forestry technician, then went to work as a grocery wholesaler in Spokane for the next 30 years.
All the while, he and his wife Deanna lived and raised their two daughters in Post Falls. He served 17 years with the Post Falls Volunteer Fire Department, reaching the rank of assistant chief, and another 12 years with the Volunteer Ambulance Service, serving as president. He was enrolled in the first EMT class in North Idaho. In 1978, he was recognized as the Idaho Firefighter of the Year.
Larkin also served eight years on the Post Falls School Board, with four years as its chairman. In 1996, he was elected to the City Council, before taking over as mayor in 2001. He's in the middle of his second elected term.
"He loves Post Falls," says Kootenai County commissioner Todd Tondee, who served as a Post Falls city councilman before he was elected to the county board in 2006. "He's a great leader and a great ambassador for Post Falls. He was a great mentor for me," Tondee says. "He has taught me a lot."
Larkin has been one of the people who have guided his city through a period of explosive growth. Since the mid-1990s, Post Falls grew from a population of about 7,000, to about 25,000 today. During that time, the city has attracted dozens of new businesses, with building permit valuations exceeding $28 billion since the turn of the century, and the city has added nearly 2,000 new jobs as businesses such as Buck Knives, SYSCO, All Seasons Apparel, Panhandle State Bank, Center Target Sports and Northwest Specialty Hospital moved into the area.
"We've been discovered," Larkin says. "We went out into the market to recruit businesses. I think we did a pretty good job."
"Post Falls is a much better place because of Clay Larkin," Tondee says. "He
does a good job selling it."
Steve Griffitts from the economic development agency Jobs Plus agrees. "He has excellent rapport with our clients," says Griffitts, who works every day to recruit new businesses into the area. "He always delivers what he promises."
Tondee says Larkin's secret is that he cares about his community: "He has a great heart."
But it was that heart which nearly betrayed Larkin nearly two years ago. At the end of 2005, the mayor underwent heart bypass surgery and was laid up for much of the start of 2006. Now he says he's fine.
Larkin says he moved to Post Falls four decades ago for the same reasons people continue to move here today. "It's the amenities," he says. "There's clean air, clean water, a pretty good crime rate." Larkin says he came "looking for a new place to live, to get away from all the crowds." Now the crowds are
coming to his city.
But the mayor's fine with that. "I would like us to become the epicenter of economic development and business in Kootenai County," Larkin says.