This Agreement is entered into between the State Ethics
Commission ("Commission") and Herbert E. Risser, Jr. ("Mr.
Risser") pursuant to Section 11 of the Commission's Procedures
Covering the Initiation and Conduct of Preliminary Inquiries and
Investigations. The parties agree that upon its execution, this
Agreement shall constitute an assented to final order of the
Commission enforceable in the Superior Court under s.4(d) of
G.L. c. 268B.
On May 4,1981, the Commission initiated a Preliminary
Inquiry into possible violations of the conflict-of-interest law,
G.L. c. 268A, involving Mr. Risser, the Registrar of the Registry
of Vital Records and Statistics ("the Registry"), a division of
the Department of Public Health. The Commission had concluded its
Preliminary Inquiry into Mr. Risser's involvement in the matters
set forth herein, and makes the following findings of fact to
which the parties hereto agree:
1. Mr. Risser has been employed by the Registry since 1963.
He was appointed Acting Registrar in 1974, and Registrar in 1976.
2. The Registry serves as the central depository for all
birth, marriage, and death records in the Commonwealth. Some of
its employees work with vital records to compile statistics, and
others provide copies of certificates to the public upon request
and payment of a fee.
3. Each year, the Registry processes thousands of requests
for certified copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates.
In addition to requests from the general public, requests came
from institutions and organizations seeking uncertified copies
for research purposes. Up until the Spring of 1981, certified
copies were furnished upon payment of a $2 per copy fee;
uncertified copies were furnished at $.35 per copy. The fees were
designed to cover the cost of indexing, searching, and copying
4. Because of high demand for records and short supply of
staff, the Registry has, on occasion,
faced serious backlogs in furnishing requested documents. As a
matter of both policy and practice, priority has always gone to
meeting over-the-counter requests from the general public,
resulting in delays of up to three months for research institutes
and organization who request large numbers of certificates. On
occasion some of these organizations have supplied their own
personnel to index and search out the records in order to speed
up the process.
5. Two organizations needing prompt service for their
certificate requests hired Mr. Risser to work overtime at the
Registry to meet their demands. Between 1976 and 1980, Risser
received $440 from the Monsanto Company and $230 from John
Hopkins University to speed up the processing of their record
requests. Mr. Risser received a $1 private fee for every
certificate that he indexed himself for these two organizations.
This private fee would cover the cost of indexing each name
listed on a requisition form from either Monsanto or John
Hopkins. Once he had located the required records, he would
notify the institution, which would pay the Commonwealth $.35 per
available record, in addition to the $1 private fee.
6. All the work for which Mr. Risser was privately paid was
done at the Registry after normal working hours.
7. Mr. Risser was the only employee at the Registry to
maintain this type of private working arrangement during the
years 1976-1980. However, in 1970, a similar arrangement had been
negotiated between then Registrar Edward Kloza and the National
Cancer Institute whereby three Registry employees, including Mr.
Risser, were selected to work overtime indexing records at an
hourly rate paid by the Institute.
8. Mr. Risser's working arrangements with Monsanto and John
Hopkins were initiated by employees of those organizations. In
1976, a representative from John Hopkins asked Mr. Risser if John
Hopkins could hire someone from the Registry to work at the
Registry indexing their record requests. Recalling the
arrangement of 1970, Mr. Risser agreed to enter into this private
working relationship with John Hopkins. In 1979, an employee from
Monsanto called Mr. Risser to ascertain the reason for the delay
in processing records it had requested. When Mr. Risser informed
Monsanto that the Registry faced a backlog of two to three
months, Monsanto asked if someone could be hired to work overtime
to circumvent the backlog. Mr. Risser agreed to do so.
9. Mr. Risser did not charge or receive private fees from
these organizations during periods when their requests were not
backlogged and could be handled without substantial delay by the
Based on the facts as set out in paragraphs 1-9 above, the
Commission has concluded, and the parties agree, that by
receiving private fees from John Hopkins and Monsanto for
processing their certificate requests, which processing involves
official acts within Mr. Risser's responsibility as Registrar,
Mr. Risser violated Section 3 of G.L. c. 268A.
WHEREFORE, the Commission has determined that the public
interest would be served by the disposition of this matter
without further enforcement proceedings, on the basis of the
following terms and conditions hereby made and agreed to by Mr.
1. Mr. Risser will cease and desist from receiving private
fees for any official act performed by the Registry;
2. Mr. Risser will pay to the State Ethics Commission the
amount of $670 as recoupment of monies received in violation of
G.L. c. 268A; and
3. Mr. Risser will pay to the State Ethics Commission the
amount of $250 as civil penalty for violating G.L.c.268A.
DATE ISSUED: August 27, 1981