During the two years that Ron Tomalis was state education secretary, he was one of the most visible members of Gov. Tom Corbett’s Cabinet, running one of the largest departments and serving as the public face of significant administration efforts.
But since his reassignment 14 months ago as the governor’s special adviser on higher education, he has been nearly invisible to the public. Just what tasks Mr. Tomalis has been accomplishing to earn his $139,542 salary aren’t clear either.
For an administration that was recently faced with a $1.5 billion deficit, it’s hard to see how such spending can be justified.
Officials in the governor’s office and at the education department weren’t eager to answer questions about Mr. Tomalis until it was obvious that a report by the Post-Gazette’s Mary Niederberger and Bill Schackner was to be published. Their article in Sunday’s editions explained that Mr. Tomalis’ work calendar from June 1, 2013, to June 1, 2014, shows weeks and months with little activity, including 20 weeks that appear to have no work-related appointments. It listed some meetings in which he did not participate.
E-mail records were similarly scant. He wrote five that were released, and the department withheld two others as exempt from disclosure under the Right to Know law without saying whether he wrote or received them. His phone log showed an average of barely more than one call per day, most of them lasting two minutes or less.
Mr. Tomalis initially was to oversee and implement recommendations from the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Post-Secondary Education, including expanding access to college for non-traditional groups and keeping tuition costs down. It’s hard to imagine how he could do so given that officials at Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Commission on Community Colleges said they’d had no contact with Mr. Tomalis. Officials at the State System of Higher Education, with 14 state-owned universities, could verify just three discussions with him.
So what was he doing?
Acting Education Secretary Carole Dumaresq said state funds were not available for some of the work proposed by the higher education commission, so some responsibilities with K-12 education were given to Mr. Tomalis. Even in that area the state provided no written examples of his work product.
“Obviously, he’s kept a very low profile,” Ms. Dumaresq told the Post-Gazette. “Maybe that should change.” Despite that, she is satisfied with Mr. Tomalis’ performance. Surprisingly, the governor’s policy chief said Mr. Corbett is, too.
Nice work if you can get it. Our question is why does Mr. Tomalis have this job?