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PW forum: answers to vexing questions.

Questions and answers in this section are from InfoNOW, a member-only service of the American Public Works Association. APWA's lnfoNOW communities provide public works professionals an open forum for information exchange. There are 12 different online communities, covering diverse topics such as fleet, emergency management, and stormwater. Community members post questions, provide answers to other's questions, or simply review the communications via e-mail or the Web. To learn more about InfoNOW and other benefits of APWA membership, visit or call 800-848-APWA.

Question: I would like some sample job descriptions, including education, experience, and certification requirements, for a director of public works (DPW) in a city with population of 100,000 to 120,000.

--Richard Young, Allentown, Pa.

Answers: The state of Washington has a great resource for many public works-related items including job descriptions for cities of all sizes. Log on to

--David L. "Lee" Dorger, director of public works, Missouri City, Texas

Whether a DPW should be a registered PE has been a subject of debate for a long time. The trend seems to be away from this requirement, even in smaller jurisdictions. It seems that the issue for a particular community would be settled by its organization. If it has a slot for a registered PE somewhere, a person who can exercise oversight over engineering things like codes and standards, there is no reason that a non-PE DPW cannot supervise that person. On the other hand, there is no reason the PE cannot be the DPW if he/she has enough management skill and experience. By the way, APWA's first executive director, Donald Stone, wrote this in 1974 to describe the requirement: "Engineering capability alone is insufficient for these multidimensional purposes. Engineering and other specialized skills must be complemented by public affairs and managerial competences. These include capacity to deal with the gamut of social, economic, environmental, and political factors inherent in planning, policy resolution, and program implementation."


--Neil Grigg, Colorado State University

I am not a registered PE, though I have held the job title of DPW since 1998. Does this mean I am not qualified to complete my tasks? Gathering the technical knowledge required for the position is not difficult in today's world with the resources available to motivated individuals. Therefore, I feel that cities and agencies looking for DPW should be more interested in candidates that have a proven track record of good management skills. A DPW in today's world had better be prepared to deal with issues on a much more public scale than those of yesteryear. I think that agencies are shortchanging themselves by limiting their searches and job descriptions to those candidates with a PE.

--Kirk S. Holmes, director of public works, Snoqualmie, Wash.

We are working on updating our job descriptions to better reflect who we are. We use the basis of "Why does the position exist?" and "What would you tell a friend about the position?" to provide a better understanding to the applicant of who we are looking for and what they can expect.

--John Sheldon, director of public works, Greenwood Village, Colo.

Those who do not have a PE typically say one is not needed. Those who have a PE typically advocate that it is important. I advocate neither position; there are simply caveats around the requirements of the particular job in a particular jurisdiction. Those begin with the need for the DPW, registered PE or not, to recognize his technical limitations, and to defer as required by law to the PE when engineering judgment is needed. But that is not a statement on DPWs with or without a PE. I've met many DPWs over the years, some with a PE, some without, who served well and successfully in that position. Those who did were good managers and leaders, which often has little to do with being a PE. All that said, in my view, a good manager/leader who understands and works well with people and is a PE is always the most desirable as a DPW in that such a position in any agency, small or large, deals with engineering issues on virtually a daily basis.

--Al King, PE, Olympia, Wash.
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Publication:Public Works
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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