Can a Non-Engineer Public Works Director Make Engineering Decisions?

Over the last few days I’ve been once again attending the Illinois Public Service Institute, a three-year training program for public works professionals in Illinois. Last year, I wrote a post about the incredible experience I had in my second year, and over the next few days or month, I am hoping to write a few articles about what I’ve learned this year.

The first topic I wanted to touch on in this short post came up during a discussion that occurred at my table while we were working on an assignment. Another engineer brought up the following scenario which caused me to wonder about how this should be handled:

A licensed, staff engineer develops a design for a set of plans that eventually he or she will stamp with their license. Their direct supervisor, the city engineer, who is also a licensed engineer, disagrees with the design and proposes a different design approach. Because the two engineers cannot come to an agreement, they take both design ideas to the city engineer’s supervisor who is the director of public works and who is not an engineer and who does not have any engineering training. Both engineers present their designs then allow the director to choose which one will be used for the plans.

I do realize with both engineers being licensed, most likely both designs are acceptable. However, if the decision is entirely based on the engineering merits of the design, how is someone who has no background or training supposed to be capable of making that decision, and is it ethical or professional to be doing so?
Also, I wondered does it make a difference if the staff engineer is stamping/signing the plans? I would think ultimately the city engineer, if an appointed official for the city, is responsible for the department’s designs, but the staff engineer seems to carry the professional liability for the design if he or she is stamping the plans.

I was curious what other engineers would think of this so would be very interested in hearing opinions or ideas or past experiences or policies related to this scenario.