Questions remain: Corbett aide’s exit won’t make the case go away

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It’s no surprise that Ron Tomalis, Gov. Tom Corbett’s special adviser on higher education, resigned Tuesday.

The Corbett administration had been having a tough time explaining what he did in the last year to earn the $139,542 salary he was paid after stepping down as state education secretary in June 2013. Plus, Mr. Tomalis’ boss is running for re-election — better to try and tamp down the controversy in August than, say, in October.

But this issue is not likely to go away. The questions about Mr. Tomalis’ work product remain, despite Mr. Corbett’s declaration two weeks ago that “he’s not a ghost employee” and education secretary Carolyn Dumaresq’s fumbling defense of a colleague who was paid as much as she without heading a department of 600 employees and a $12 billion budget.

Mr. Tomalis’ resignation came after the Post-Gazette reported July 27 that the education department showed records that he had written only five emails, made slightly more than a phone call a day for a year and had a mostly empty work calendar, despite commanding a Cabinet secretary-level salary.

Ms. Dumaresq gave different answers for Mr. Tomalis’ dearth of emails, saying first that he preferred face-to-face interactions and later that education department employees purge emails frequently. If the latter is true, it’s an apparent violation of department policy and possibly a violation of state records retention law.

The latest indication that the job created for Tomalis may be suspect was the statement Wednesday by a Corbett aide that it will not be filled. Then Thursday the governor said that, if re-elected, he will consider a new hire. So how essential was this post in the first place?

As a former state attorney general, Tom Corbett knows that those who head that office and the auditor general’s office will be only too happy to investigate the possibility of a ghost employee in his administration. Better for candidate Corbett and Pennsylvania that he provide complete answers soon on the work of Ron Tomalis.

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