offered by

Settlement In the Matter of Herbert E. Risser, Jr.

Date: 08/27/1981
Organization: State Ethics Commission
Docket Number: 147

Table of Contents

Disposition Agreement

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 original records.

4. Because of high demand for records and short supply of staff, the Registry has, on occasion, 

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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 Registry staff.

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. Risser:

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.