When Lisa Riccobene was suspended last month following a probe of her credentials, state officials said that when she did return to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, she would no longer be its chief of staff. Instead, a spokesman said, she would be demoted to a newly created nonsupervisory role.
But a day after Riccobene reported to work, Dr. Mindy Hull, Massachusetts’ chief medical examiner, told administrative staffers whom Riccobene had overseen that her duties would “remain largely the same,” according to an e-mail obtained by the Globe.
And for now, Hull said, she planned to delegate certain responsibilities to Riccobene, who had been her handpicked chief of staff and administrative services director.
“Please try to field your questions through Lisa,” Hull told staffers.
The comments raise further questions both about Riccobene’s role at the long-troubled agency and the fallout from its handling of the episode surrounding her. Riccobene was suspended in early June, following a Globe report that school records disputed her claim she had earned a master’s degree at Northeastern University.
Felix Browne, an agency spokesman, reiterated Thursday that Riccobene was demoted and is no longer directly supervising any staff, including the legal department, which once fell under her purview in her previous $112,000-a-year position.
She is still reporting directly to Hull, however, and as an “office support liaison” — a title that hadn’t existed — she serves as a point of contact for other state agencies and grieving families, responsibilities she had previously held, according to her office. She is approving time sheets of administrative staff and setting schedules and is designated as a nonunion manager. As of Thursday, a new chief of staff had not been hired.
At the time of Riccobene’s suspension, Browne said that an employee’s educational credentials are typically verified as part of a background check if they are required for the position. In Riccobene’s case, that was not done, he said.
According to a management questionnaire Riccobene signed in December, a graduate degree was among the “preferred qualifications” for the dual position of chief of staff and director of administrative services.
Once promoted, Riccobene directly managed $1.8 million in public funds and oversaw 17 staffers. She also served as the primary contact for law enforcement for the taxpayer-funded agency, which is responsible for investigating violent and unexplained deaths.
After the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security completed its internal review of Riccobene’s résumé in June, Browne said that her salary would be reduced to $90,000, her personnel file would be updated, and she would be “demoted to a nonsupervisory role” after a two-week unpaid suspension.
Roughly two weeks later, on June 19, Hull e-mailed administrative staff an update:
“Please be advised that Lisa’s job duties as Office Support Liaison Manager remain largely the same, although I will currently serve as the overall administrative manager. I will be delegating the scheduling and time issues to her for the time being.”
She also encouraged administrative staff to apply for two supervisory positions, which would help the office find “ways to make the administrative services functions even better,” she said, “including further delegation of work.”
Browne said many of Riccobene’s current duties are similar to what she did even before she was a chief of staff, and that her designation as manager is to ensure that she is salaried and not part of the union or eligible for overtime pay.
“Lisa Riccobene served a two-week unpaid suspension, had her salary reduced by $22,000, and was demoted from the Chief of Staff position with an associated reduction in the supervisory duties she fulfilled in that role,” Browne said in a statement.
As it has worked to regain its national accreditation, Hull’s office has faced other challenges, including a rising caseload and past criticism over a backlog in processing death certificates and autopsy reports.
In the nearly two years between October 2015, when the office implemented a new organizational approach, and September 2017, the agency processed just 58 percent of autopsies and 78 percent of death certificates within 90 days. The National Association of Medical Examiners requires that medical examiners complete reports within that timeframe.
Hull was tapped to lead the office in October, with a $375,000 salary — a nearly $100,000 increase over what her predecessor made annually.