Corbett defends education adviser who resigned amid questions about duties

A day after the Corbett administration said it won’t replace higher education adviser Ron Tomalis, the governor himself said Thursday he may revisit that decision if re-elected.

“I’m not replacing anybody right now with less than four months going into the election,” Mr. Corbett said when asked why — having decided a higher education adviser was needed in 2013 — he was not replacing Mr. Tomalis.

“After I’m elected, I’ll decide whether I want to continue with somebody in a role like that,” he said.

Mr. Corbett declined to specify what the successor’s top priorities would be, if the position would pay a cabinet-level salary as it did for Mr. Tomalis, or if the job next time would have a written job description.

“That is way too far ahead,” the governor said.

Mr. Tomalis resigned Tuesday, effective Aug. 26, amid questions about how much work he did for his $139,542 salary. It was the same pay Mr. Tomalis received as state education secretary before Mr. Corbett named him his special adviser in June 2013.

The questions arose after a July 27 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that reported in his first year as adviser, Mr. Tomalis sent just five emails, had a nearly-empty calendar, phone logs that averaged little more than a call per day, no travel expenses and no job description. The information came from Right-To-Know requests submitted by the Post-Gazette on Mr. Tomalis’ first anniversary in the adviser’s job.

In addition to the lack of documents provided for Mr. Tomalis, key players in higher education across the state reported they had little to no contact with Mr. Tomalis after he became higher education adviser.

Speaking to reporters after a news conference on economic development at Pittsburgh International Airport, Mr. Corbett said calls for investigations into the Tomalis matter and for the firing of acting state Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq are political.

When asked if, politics aside, legitimate questions had been raised about the use of state dollars, Mr. Corbett replied: “There are no politics aside.”

Most of the calls for the firing of Mr. Tomalis and Ms. Dumaresq and for investigations into the education department have come from Fresh Start PA, the election campaign of Democrat Tom Wolf, Mr. Corbett’s opponent in the November election.

Mr. Tomalis has not made himself available for comment for several weeks. But Ms. Dumaresq has defended him, saying he worked 40 hours per week since she became acting secretary a year ago and that she used him for projects in the K-12 arena when money for incentive funding for colleges and universities did not come through.

Incentive funding was one of the recommendations of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education — recommendations that Mr. Tomalis was supposed to be carrying out.

Ms. Dumaresq defended Mr. Tomalis’ lack of emails first by saying he preferred face-to-face interactions rather than emails and later saying there were so few emails because department employees delete and purge emails daily.

The comments about purging emails prompted some of the calls for an investigation into whether education department employees are destroying public records.

The governor said he rarely uses email because he knows reporters would file Right-To-Know requests to get them. Instead, he said, he uses the telephone. He said he needs the freedom to be able to express opinions that he may later want to change.

Mr. Corbett said he deletes his emails about once a week.

Mr. Corbett has in the past two weeks defended Mr. Tomalis against accusations that he was a “ghost employee” and did so again Thursday.

”He did his work. I thanked him for his work and I wish him luck in his future endeavors,“ the governor said.

Bill Schackner;, 412-263-1977. Mary Niederberger: or 412-263-1590.

Mary Niederberger:, or 412-263-1590. Bill Schackner:, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG. First Published August 14, 2014 11:54 AM

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