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Everyday People is a WYSO Public Radio series that takes a look at the jobs you might not know much about. But the people who do them protect us and often are the glue holding our communities together. These stories are a reminder to step back as we go about our day and take a moment to recognize all the people who make up this rich tapestry that forms the fabric of our lives.If you know someone with a job you think we should know more about, email rwilde@wyso.org.

Meet Centerville's zoning & code enforcement inspector

Centerville Zoning and Code Investigator Sande Heck stars in a series of informative zoning videos.
Centerville Zoning and Code Investigator Sande Heck stars in a series of informative zoning videos.

Everyday People is WYSO’s series that shines a light on the jobs, and people who do them, that touch our lives in ways that we don’t always understand or appreciate. In this episode Renee Wilde rides along with a zoning and code inspector for Centerville, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio.

If you grew up in Centerville you probably already know who Sande Heck is.

For 30 years he was a police officer and the subject of a student-run radio program at Centerville High School called ‘Where the heck is Heck’.

“Because I would write everybody tickets,” Heck said. “And the kids especially.”

Centerville is considered a "graying city." The city has the oldest average population in Ohio.
Renee Wilde
Centerville is considered a "graying city." The city has the oldest average population in Ohio.

Heck is retired from the police force, but he still works to help protect and serve Centerville residents. For the past 18 years he has been the city's zoning and code enforcement inspector.

And, in a playful nod to that student radio program, the city has created a series of informative videos sharing zoning tips for residents called ‘What the Hecke, Sande?’

So what exactly does a zoning and code enforcement officer do?

We have a property maintenance ordinance, which deals with peeling paint and keeping your bushes reasonably trimmed and dead trees removed, stuff like that,” Heck said in his office in the city's Municipal building.

“We have the city municipal code which has all kinds of things in it, many pertaining to homeowners,” he said, ticking off a list. “We have a unified development ordinance which is our zoning code, which has a whole bunch of stuff like RV parkings in there.”

Sliding open a drawer crammed with thick hardbound notebooks, Heck said “all these books are what have laws in them that I have to deal with. So, it’s a lot.”

As we talk about his work, it’s clear Heck cares deeply about this community that he has lived and worked in for almost 50 years.

We’re not going to cite somebody in court because they can’t cut their grass because they can’t pay anybody and can’t do it themselves,” he said. “I’ve done it myself sometimes and we’ve gotten church groups to help them clean up their yard”

The city also has a program administered through Montgomery Counties Rebuilding Together Dayton to help low income seniors.

And there is one lady, she is 95 (and) lives on under $11,000 a year, which doesn’t pay much,” Heck said. “She got a new roof, she got new gutters and downspouts, a new bathroom, they’re bringing her a washer and dryer soon.”

“So we’ll get people help if they need it,” he adds.

As we climb in Heck’s work truck for a trip around Centerville I ask him if this job is still considered law enforcement in a way.

Centerville Zoning Code Enforcement Investigator Sande Heck trims low hanging tree branches.
Renee Wilde
Centerville Zoning Code Enforcement Investigator Sande Heck trims low hanging tree branches.

I’m not a sworn officer anymore, and I don’t physically arrest people, but I do cite people in court,” he said. “But, it’s telling people, on occasion, to do things they don’t want to do.”

So, what kinds of things is Heck looking for here when he’s driving through a neighborhood?

Well, I have some of my regulars, but making sure people aren’t putting big brush piles in their yard, maybe somebody's fence blew down, or they bought a new car and had it towed in and it’s an unlicensed junker,” he told me. “Maybe there is a new family who moved in and they’ve brought their chicken coop with them. You’re not supposed to have chickens in Centerville.”

No chickens in Centerville?

No chickens, no bee hives unless you’re in an agricultural zoning area,” Heck agrees. “I was driving one of the residential roads one day with the windows down and heard a rooster. I go, ‘ah, I think I know where that is’, and I turned around and went back and walked around out back.”

“They had a covered patio and had chicken wired it in and had about 50 chickens,” he said. “So I knock on the door and say, ‘you can’t have chickens,’ and a week later they are all gone. I don’t know if they had a big barbecue or had a friend who had chickens they took them to.”

Heck said that’s happened several times.

The city also does inspections on rental properties.

We have been as good as we can be about not making it a burden on people, and it’s mainly health and safety - smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors,” Heck said. “We have found, especially in apartment complexes, big ones that are older, we have found flues closed up on water heaters and things that are letting carbon monoxide in.”

“We’ve had to condemn places and get people out. We’ve found all kinds of horrendous safety problems,” he added.

“You know, if we save one life because of a carbon monoxide detector it’s worth it,” Heck said.

When asked what he thinks that people don’t know about his job but should, Heck is quick to reply.

That I’m here to help them, if they let me.”

Renee Wilde is an award-winning independent public radio producer, podcast host, and hobby farmer living in the hinterlands of southwestern Ohio.