By Matthew C. Ryan
The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners (TBAE) is tasked with a broad mandate to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Almost all architects have their first encounter with the board in its role as a gatekeeper, governing the examination and registration process, and thwarting unlicensed practice. But the TBAE’s other main role is the investigation of alleged professional misconduct — this is the type of scrutiny that no architect wants to face. Whether a case involves claims of dishonesty, negligence, criminal convictions, or otherwise, the careful handling of your projects and clients can help serve as the stitch in time that saves nine.
"Methods to TBAE Success" is a two-part series featuring a handful of “lessons learned” to aid in maintaining a good standing with the TBAE.
What you don’t know can — and probably will — hurt you.
It is important to be familiar with all of the TBAE’s rules — particularly those dealing with the use of the architect’s seal. “Plan-stamping” is a serious offense that can result in suspension or outright revocation. Professionals should learn and live these rules for supervision. Additionally, professionals should only seal work over which they exercise responsible charge. Do not forget the required TBAE “statement of jurisdiction” in every written agreement for architectural services. Most form contracts — including those published by the AIA — do not include this provision, and leaving it out is a violation of TBAE rules.
Be careful how you phrase proposals to prospective clients.
Danger lurks when your proposal language raises suspicion about inducements to public entities. TBAE Rule 1.144(c) is essentially an anti-bribery measure. Be mindful of drafting proposals that offer to do work “at no risk” or “at no cost.” Never offer free work before you are selected for a public project. Similarly, you should never discuss your architectural fee amounts or arrangements before being awarded a public commission for architectural services. See TBAE Rule 1.147.
Call before you dig.
How much supervision is enough to cross the responsible charge threshold? What if the staff generating the initial drawings is in another city or country? How does a successor architect deal with drawings prepared by another registrant? If any of these concerns about the application of a TBAE rule or policy arise, call and ask for insights from TBAE staff, including the agency’s managing investigator and its general counsel. While one person’s informal views cannot establish policy or bind the entire agency, TBAE’s staff has never refused to answer one of my questions. They frequently provide very helpful input on enforcement policy and hypothetical situations. This approach can help you make the most illuminated decisions in a professional practice that moves quickly and can be highly competitive.
Avoid the “slow cataclysm of neglect.”
These are dynamic times; people change jobs and can move halfway across the country to pursue a new opportunity. A registrant must stay up to date with all registration requirements and not allow a license to expire or be idle for more than two years — unless you relish the prospect of going back to square one and starting your registration process from scratch. TBAE is committed to sending renewal notices, but it is not responsible for mail delivery failures nor for making sure your address is current. Failure to keep contact information updated is itself a violation of TBAE rules, as is a failure to report the required information when you conduct your annual registration renewal. Calendar your deadlines — for renewal, continuing education, etc. — in at least two prominent places.
Consider hiring a lawyer if a case is unclear, or hotly disputed.
Not every case necessarily requires legal representation. You should always assess the recommended penalties in the TBAE Rules as soon as you receive notice of a complaint. Otherwise, you may not fully appreciate what is at stake. If the potential consequences are serious, consider hiring a lawyer who can help walk you through the board’s procedures and the ultimate potential for a negative result. Avoid waiting until the last minute to seek out professional help — but if you need extra time, the board has historically been very generous in granting reasonable deadline extensions.
Matthew C. Ryan is a partner in the Austin-based construction law firm Allensworth & Porter and a member of the AIA Austin Board of Directors.