‘Zone ranger’ ready to ride off into the sunset: Longtime Lee County official retiring after 36 years

November 22, 2018

DIXON – Chris Henkel has worn many hats working for the county, and now he’s ready to hang them up.

Henkel will retire at end of the month after 36 years, the past 23 as Lee County’s zoning administrator.

He began working for the county in the maintenance department in 1982 and became zoning administrator in 1995. He also was made maintenance department supervisor for the county’s eight facilities.

He was honored by the County Board earlier this week – fittingly, with more hats. Henkel was presented with a couple of hats to take home, a multicolored cap with a propeller on top to symbolize wind energy, and another fitted with a small solar panel to represent solar energy.

“I’m very honored this is happening,” Henkel said. “I’ve always loved my job.”

Henkel was instrumental in developing and implementing a comprehensive land use plan for the county in 2000 and later updating it in 2010, as well as creating the Land Evaluation Site Assessment that protects the county’s prime farmland, board member John Nicholson said.

He has done a plethora of work for the county, ranging from cleaning 80 years of dust off the stained-glass windows in the old Lee County Courthouse to helping develop the first wind energy regulation ordinance in the state.

Henkel is a leader in zoning renewable energy systems, and often is called the “zone ranger,” Nicholson said.

As a result of Henkel’s hard work, the county has collected $5 million in zoning fees since 2003 and $1.3 million this year alone, he said.

Henkel has grown to have so many responsibilities, in fact, that the county will be replacing him with two positions.

Dee Duffy, who has also filled many roles with the county in the last 25 years, including Freedom of Information Act officer and board secretary, will become the new zoning administrator.

“As I walk out this door, I walk with my head up,” Henkel said shortly before he received a standing ovation from the packed board room.

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