(BIVN) – Thanks in part to the testimony of several licensed engineers – including a few former public works directors – the Hawaiʻi County Charter Commission on Friday voted down a proposed amendment that would have relaxed the requirements to lead the department.
Charter Amendment No. CA-26, Draft 3 – up for Second and Final Reading during the meeting in Hilo – proposal to amend the section relating to Qualifications for the Director of the Department of Public Works, “to remove the requirement that the Director be a registered professional engineer, add that the five years of administrative experience to be eligible for appointment as Director be related to the powers, duties, and functions of the Department of Public Works, and add the requirement that candidates possess a bachelor’s degree in a field related to the powers, duties, and functions of the Department of Public Works”. The proposed amendment was submitted by Chair Douglass Shipman Adams.
The council chamber was filled with engineers, who stood solidly opposed to the amendment.
According to Curtis Beck, who has been a licensed engineer in Hawaiʻi since 1983, the Task Force On Overruling Engineering Judgment said in its final report in 2006: “Today, engineers sometimes report to politicians, public administrators, and MBAs at the head of their organizations. Sometimes this structure works well, relieving the engineers of the non-technical problem areas but deferring to the engineers’ judgment on technical issues. however, a risk that is frequently ignored is that unless the trust relationship develops between the engineer and the non-engineer supervisor or regulator, the technical program or project can be misdirected into unstable and even dangerous ground, that may become unduly influenced by political factors, public relations issues, financial considerations, and unreasonable completion schedules.”
“I obviously think a great deal about professional engineers. I’m married to one,” said chair Adams in support of the change. “I think it’s important that where we have the opportunity, though, to take a look at what the responsibilities of the position are – particularly when they are leadership oriented – that we don’t necessarily carve out a smaller niche then is necessary for the individuals that could serve in that role.”
“In observing what happened last year during the emergency, the Kīlauea lava flow,” said vice chair Jennifer Zelko-Schlueter in opposition to the amendment, “the Department of Public Works plays a really integral, very important role in emergencies, so I feel much more comfortable if you’ve got someone with … that very technical background.”
The commission voted down the amendment.