Engineering And The First Amendment

Can you be persecuted (and, perhaps, prosecuted) for having an (informed) opinion about traffic infrastructure and voicing/writing that opinion as part of bicycle and pedestrian advocacy.

Apparently, yes. This is partly a case of attempting to criminalize speech for political purposes.

Although it also appears apparent that you’ll “win” even if the worst should happen.

What’s the law in Missouri?

Practice as professional engineer defined–use of titles, restrictions.

327.181. 1. Any person practices in Missouri as a professional engineer who renders or offers to render or holds himself or herself out as willing or able to render any service or creative work, the adequate performance of which requires engineering education, training, and experience in the application of special knowledge of the mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences to such services or creative work as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning and design of engineering works and systems, engineering teaching of advanced engineering subjects or courses related thereto, engineering surveys, the coordination of services furnished by structural, civil, mechanical and electrical engineers and other consultants as they relate to engineering work and the inspection of construction for the purpose of compliance with drawings and specifications, any of which embraces such service or work either public or private, in connection with any utilities, structures, buildings, machines, equipment, processes, work systems or projects and including such architectural work as is incidental to the practice of engineering; or who uses the title “professional engineer” or “consulting engineer” or the word “engineer” alone or preceded by any word indicating or implying that such person is or holds himself or herself out to be a professional engineer, or who shall use any word or words, letters, figures, degrees, titles or other description indicating or implying that such person is a professional engineer or is willing or able to practice engineering.

2. Notwithstanding any provision of subsection 1 of this section, any person using the word “engineer”, “engineers”, or “engineering”, alone or preceded by any word, or in combination with any words, may do so without being subject to disciplinary action by the board so long as such use is reflective of that person’s profession or vocation and is clearly not indicating or implying that such person is holding himself or herself out as being a professional engineer or is willing or able to practice engineering as defined in this section.

Unauthorized practice prohibited, persons excepted.

327.191. No person shall practice as a professional engineer in Missouri, as defined in section 327.181 unless and until there is issued to such person a professional license or a certificate of authority certifying that such person has been duly licensed as a professional engineer or authorized to practice engineering in Missouri, and unless such license or certificate has been renewed as provided in section 327.261; provided that section 327.181 shall not be construed to prevent the practice of engineering by the following persons:

(1) Any person who is an employee of a person holding a currently valid license as a professional engineer or who is an employee of a person holding a currently valid certificate of authority pursuant to this chapter, and who performs professional engineering work under the direction and continuing supervision of and is checked by one holding a currently valid license as a professional engineer pursuant to this chapter;

(2) Any person who is a regular full-time employee of a person or any former employee under contract to a person, who performs professional engineering work for such employer if and only if all such work and service so performed is done solely in connection with a facility owned or wholly operated by the employer and occupied or maintained by the employer of the employee performing such work or service;

(3) Any person engaged in engineering who is a full-time, regular employee of a person engaged in manufacturing operations and which engineering so performed by such person relates to the manufacture, sale or installation of the products of such person;

(4) Any holder of a currently valid license or certificate of authority as an architect who performs only such engineering work as is incidental and necessary to the completion of architectural work lawfully being performed by such architect;

(5) Any person or corporation who is offering, but not performing or rendering, professional engineering services if the person or corporation is licensed to practice professional engineering in the state or country of residence or principal place of business.

Don’t you just love legal language 🙂

I think it is entirely possible someone with a bug up his/her ass could file a complaint about me. I hold the super important and prestigious title of chairman of the engineering committee for the STAR Team of Ozark Greenways — I insisted on Grand Pubah, but no one listened 🙁 I once submitted a drawing of a proposed bicycle corral (that — GADZOOKS! — included actual measurements) to a local merchant so that merchant could make an argument to the city and local downtown civic groups for building such a thing. I have absolutely no qualifications as an engineer as reinforced by my life-long aversion to anything having to do with math.

What protects me: The bike/ped community and the City of Springfield (especially the planning and engineering people) have a good working relationship built on mutual respect.

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Comments 15

  1. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Holy shit. I would advise looking at the official documents listing the name of your committee, the bona fides required, and what your job is. In Los Alamos, the Transportation Board is clearly defined as a citizen advisory board. It makes recommendations to council but does not in itself design physical structures that normally require an engineering degree. In fact, when a bunch of citizens (aka the “citizen’s group”) demanded to evaluate a recent road project, I refused to let them evaluate anything (as Board Chair, I could do that) specifically because they had no PE or PTOE or planning credentials. They were quite good, mind you, with a few Ph.D.s and ME degrees, but no roadway bona fides. We put out the project to an independent engineering design firm. I did that to protect us as a board and the county from potential litigation, even though it pissed off the citizen’s group.

    Damn country is being overrun by lawyers and nasty people.

    Posted 12 Mar 2012 at 11:38 am
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Khal… We don’t have “official” documents. But one of our esteemed city traffic engineers is on my committee. Maybe he should be in charge.

    Posted 12 Mar 2012 at 12:27 pm
  3. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Traffic engineer and DPW Director work better as a legal shield than Grand Pubah…

    Posted 12 Mar 2012 at 3:17 pm
  4. Andy Cline wrote:

    I just sent e-mail officially resigning as chair of the engineering committee.

    Posted 12 Mar 2012 at 4:02 pm
  5. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Andy–I am sorry to hear that. But I hope you included an explanation of the two cases that Mr. Magas describes. These actions smack of SLAP suits meant to silence public participation, and need to be pushed back into their holes.

    If Springfield has not defined the roles and responsibilities of its citizen committees, it probably should, which should avoid this sort of chilling effect. I would hope so, anyway.

    Posted 12 Mar 2012 at 4:16 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    I remain in the game sans Pubah title, but you can be sure I’m going to ask that the STAR Team discuss this.

    Posted 12 Mar 2012 at 4:21 pm
  7. Steve A wrote:

    It is all about false representation. Even a PE such as myself is duty bound not to represent oneself as same if it implies qualifications outside my specialty. Anybody can make a spurious claim and the licensing agency is still bound to investigate. I am NOT a journalist!

    Posted 12 Mar 2012 at 6:46 pm
  8. David Brigden wrote:

    Interesting. The email contains more of the quote than the website. specifically this part.

    “the adequate performance of which requires engineering education, training, and experience in the application of special knowledge of the mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences to such services or creative work”

    I don’t think drawings with actual measurements requires special knowledge of mathematics.

    Posted 13 Mar 2012 at 5:57 am
  9. Andy Cline wrote:

    Steve… But you could be a journalist because it requires no special training or certification 😉

    David… What I described myself as doing is much the same as the guys who got nabbed in the case study.

    Posted 13 Mar 2012 at 7:59 am
  10. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Generally, professionals in the technical civil service fields like civil engineer, professional traffic operational engineer, etc., are not only holders of technical degrees but are licensed by the state, often after an examination or proof of competence. This is a case were, as Steve says, the law is meant to keep people from practicing without a license, much as in the medical field.

    As far as design work. The devils are always in the details, but generally, municipalities are sure to have licensed professionals perform (or at least sign off as the competent authority) the actual final design work on a project, just as hospitals make sure actual MDs certified by whatever board certifies them do surgery.

    Unless the city in question was so overcome with folly that it was building roads, bridges, and bikeways designed and vetted by amateurs, this case never should have seen the light of day. I think it should have been handled in a more graceful manner, but then again, we all know how bureaucracies work–someone has a standard form letter sent out, and it is designed to make you shit your pants. No citizen advisor wants to get a certified letter threatening fines and jail for a good faith effort to do a job as written in the city governing laws. How we handle it is different, but the whole idea of misusing the law is to intimidate people.

    That person (or people) who filed the complaint need(s) a trip to the Community Woodshed. I cannot see how such a complaint could have been filed without vetting it with superiors and the City Attorney. This should not have gotten beyond the city, unless, as someone said, the engineer in question was concerned that proper professional boundaries were not being respected. But really–was this a case of using a 500 lb bomb to get rid of a beehive?

    Posted 13 Mar 2012 at 9:03 am
  11. robert wrote:


    This simply says that you cannot represent yourself as a Professional Engineer. You weren’t.

    Now if you started an engineering firm and started signing off on construction documents with P.E. after your name….then yes you should be prosecuted.

    You have to understand what the potential consequences could be of someone pretending to be a P.E. I mean buildings could collapse for goodness sake. You wouldn’t want someone pretending to be a Medical Doctor, would you?

    I think you’re starting to get pretty good at this “getting carried away thing.” You could have your own radio talk show soon! ; )

    Posted 13 Mar 2012 at 8:23 pm
  12. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Did you not read the case? Those guys weren’t acting like engineers either. I think Khal’s advice is sound. Re: talk show …. been there, done that 🙂

    Wait… Hmmmm… is the link not working? I’ve re-implemented it.

    Posted 13 Mar 2012 at 10:01 pm
  13. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Submitting a sketch to a merchant for a bike corral is a far cry from submitting a bikeway design to the city as a formal design. Then again, when someone’s bike falls over, they will hand Andy the bill.

    I think one can get carried away with litigious worries, but then again, I understand from my own experience as a county advisory board chair that one needs to watch one’s back in today’s environment. Just make sure you make it abundantly clear what your roles are. I concur with Steve Avery–the laws are meant to protect the public against charlatans, but nowdays, people sue or complain bitterly on the slimmest of pretexts. One has to have one’s eyes wide open and be ready to stand up for your rights.

    I’ve had to grow a very thick skin and groom my ability to insult people cryptically while being a county board chair and before that, as a union board member when I was a professor at the U of Hawaii. It all makes one think very carefully about public involvement. No good deed ever goes unpunished. But I love it….

    Posted 14 Mar 2012 at 12:12 pm
  14. Andy Cline wrote:

    Khal… The discussion began today re: writing down roles for the STAR Team.

    Posted 14 Mar 2012 at 12:37 pm
  15. Steve A wrote:

    Q: So, he wonders, somewhat after the fact, might a Mechanical PE inquiring about a dangerous grate in Hurst, Texas be subject to similar action?

    A: Only if dealing with a cretin. And cretins are not only limited to any single specialty…

    Posted 14 Mar 2012 at 7:06 pm