PE Action Ensures License Requirement for Hawaii Public Works Position

July/August 2019

PE Report
PE Action Ensures License Requirement for Hawaii Public Works Position

An effort to remove the PE requirement for the director of public works for Hawaii County was recently thwarted by the Hawaii Society of Professional Engineers’ Big Island Chapter.

In June, the Hawaii County Charter Commission held hearings about 28 proposed charter amendments for the 2020 ballot, including a proposal to remove the PE requirement. The proposal (CA-26) placed only one significant requirement on the position: five years of administrative experience. The current department director David Yamamoto and deputy director Allen Simeon are both PEs.

Commission Chairman Doug Adams, sponsor of the proposal, believes that a lack of a professional license in a technical field doesn’t necessarily mean the director can’t manage those who have one, according to a Hawaii Tribune Herald article. “I think that it helps with identifying, increasing, expanding the potential for directors, good people, solid people that will have had experience in [a] public works department whether it is here or in other locations, and not necessarily create this small niche of those with a PE degree,” he was quoted as saying in a June 9 article.

Under the leadership of Big Island Chapter Director Curtis Beck, P.E., F.NSPE, chapter members spoke against the commission’s proposed amendment. Ten chapter members, which included former directors of public works, provided testimony to the commission. The commission was also presented with a letter addressing the critical need to have a licensed engineer in responsible charge of decisions that directly affect the health, safety, and welfare of county citizens. Nearly 60 PEs and architects who opposed the amendment signed onto the letter.

The commission responded to this outreach and testimonies by voting down the amendment, 7-2. “It felt good to make a difference,” Beck stated on an NSPE Communities post.

NSPE is aware that the practice of appointing nonengineer administrators to positions to perform functions that involve the practice of engineering has accelerated at an alarming pace throughout all levels of government. This practice, says the Society, is inconsistent with the goal of state engineering licensing laws to protect the public.

NSPE recommends that government officials recognize the importance of the engineering function within the government departments and agencies through the selection of qualified licensed professional engineers to positions having responsibility for making engineering decisions and exercising engineering judgment.