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Must Public Works be supervised by a registered engineer? | READER COMMENTARY

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr., flanked by County Councilman David Marks, left, and acting director of the Department of Public Works D’Andrea Walker, right, announces updates on the pilot project for the Towson Circulator, a free bus system connecting Towson hubs, expected to begin fall 2021. (Baltimore County handout/Baltimore Sun).

After a unanimous favorable vote by the Baltimore County Council, the matter of the qualifications of the county’s director of Public Works and Transportation will now go to the voters to decide (”Baltimore County voters to decide qualifications for Public Works director,” Aug. 3). I strongly support (and spoke in favor of) this change to end the strict requirement that the director of DPWT have a professional engineer, or P.E., degree and to allow alternative qualifications.

As the County Council’s auditors pointed out, the surrounding counties say yes and no — some do and some don’t require a registered engineer for the comparable position. As Councilman David Marks delineated, for many, many years the secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation has not been a registered engineer, and some outstanding leaders have held that post: John D. Porcari and Beverley Swaim-Staley, for example.


The state used to require a P.E. for appointment as secretary of the Department of General Services, as well, but that has not been the case for decades. Relevant management expertise in related fields and proven management expertise are the requirements for success. The Baltimore County DPWT director will have appropriate engineering and design expertise among the registered professionals — engineers, architects and landscape architects — in key leadership positions to draw upon. These are the managers who are closest to the work and in the best position to be “in responsible charge.”

Like that agency, the Maryland Department of General Services manages a diverse and complex portfolio. I am not a licensed professional engineer. Nor am I a sworn police officer. But as the department’s secretary, I was responsible for these and many other functional areas. During my four-year tenure, DGS earned 11 national awards for excellence in government. So I guess my not having a P.E. was not an overwhelming impediment.


Like the state secretaries of General Services and Transportation, the Baltimore County director of DPWT is a management job above all else. Having a larger pool from which to draw is a plus, not a minus. If the best candidate is a P.E., that’s well and good. If the best candidate is not a registered engineer, the county should not be deprived of making that selection. With all due respect to professional engineers with whom I was proud to work for my entire professional career in both the private and public sectors, a strong leader with relevant experience and a proven track record is what Baltimore County should want.

Peta N. Richkus, Towson

The writer served as secretary of the Maryland Department of General Services from Jan. 4, 1999 to Jan. 15, 2003.

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