Ron Tomalis, former special adviser to the governor on higher education.
By Bill Schackner and Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A day after the resignation of Ron Tomalis, special adviser to the governor on higher education, calls continued Wednesday for investigations into whether he was a “ghost employee” and into the state Department of Education’s email retention policy.
Officials of Fresh Start PA, a political action coalition that supports the candidacy of Democrat Tom Wolf for governor, called Tuesday for various state agencies to investigate whether Mr. Tomalis was a “ghost employee” who did little or no work for his $139,542 salary and to examine the email retention practices of the education department.
On Wednesday, Fresh Start chairwoman Katie McGinty continued to push Republican Gov. Tom Corbett for those investigations and for the firing of acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq over public statements she made claiming education department employees delete and cleanse their emails each day.
In addition, state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-Washington County, issued a news release also calling for investigations by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane into Mr. Tomalis’ job performance and the education department’s email purging practices. “In the interest of good government and transparency, I think it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Neuman said.
In response, Jay Pagni, a spokesman for Mr. Corbett, said Wednesday evening that the governor “has full confidence in acting secretary Dumaresq.”
If it’s within their jurisdiction, agencies have a right to follow up on such calls for inquiry. “Obviously, the administration would cooperate fully,” Mr. Pagni said.
The Corbett administration, meanwhile, said Wednesday it does not intend to replace Mr. Tomalis and that instead, his duties will be shifted to existing staffers within the education department, agency spokesman Tim Eller said.
“The secretary will take over the oversight of that,” Mr. Eller added.
It’s difficult to tell if state agencies are taking up a call for investigations, since most have a policy of neither confirming nor denying whether an investigation is taking place. Spokesmen for the state Office of Inspector General, attorney general and ethics commission all said they could not confirm or deny if their agencies are conducting investigations.
But a spokeswoman for Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office is in the midst of a special performance audit of the department of education — an audit that was started in January after complaints from school districts about the department’s performance.
“Over the past year and up until January, the school audits revealed a lot of things that we found that the department of education wasn’t doing or wasn’t doing properly — things involving charter school reimbursements and just not providing enough assistance to school districts as they should,” spokeswoman Susan Woods said.
Ms. Woods said the audit is a “comprehensive special performance audit” that will “look at things that may need to be changed over there.”
She could not say specifically if the auditors now also will include in their review Mr. Tomalis’ work schedule and the email retention practices of the department.
“All I can say is, we are over there and if the auditors find things that raise concern, they will bring it to the attention of the auditor general,” Ms. Woods said.
Mr. Tomalis resigned about two weeks after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the department could produce only five emails he authored, phone logs averaging barely over a call day for a year, a largely empty calendar and no expenses traveling the state. Key higher education players reported little or no contact with Mr. Tomalis.
The Corbett administration in 2013 saw value in having a special adviser with Mr. Tomalis’ duties given higher education’s importance in the commonwealth, Mr. Eller said. The fact the position isn’t being filled “doesn’t reduce the importance … it’s just the secretary; instead of having an extra person on staff, she’ll have that absorbed by others on staff.”
Asked about calls for the secretary’s removal, Mr. Eller said, “She rejects all those calls that are out there. She rejects the notion that there is a cover-up.”
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