Ethics panel asked to investigate former Pa. education secretary

Ron Tomalis kept his salary when he left to be an adviser.
Ron Tomalis kept his salary when he left to be an adviser.
Posted: July 30, 2014

HARRISBURG - A Harrisburg activist has asked the state Ethics Commission to investigate if an adviser to Gov. Corbett is earning his keep.

In a complaint filed Monday, Gene Stilp asked the commission to determine if Ron Tomalis, Corbett's onetime education secretary turned special adviser, "was actually working for his government salary . . . and all the related state benefits," according to a copy of the complaint.

Stilp also asks the agency to examine "the character and the nature of the work that is actually being done, and whether or not the required amount of work time . . . has actually been utilized for actual work."

The complaint follows a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that questioned Tomalis' work since he was named a special adviser to Corbett on higher education 14 months ago - at the same $139,971 salary he made as education secretary.

The newspaper cited Tomalis' work calendar, which it said included weeks of little or no activity, phone logs that barely averaged a call a day, scant e-mails; and little interaction with some Pennsylvania universities and higher education agencies. Some of the information was obtained through the state's Right-to-Know law.

Tomalis did not respond to e-mail or voice mail messages from The Inquirer on Monday. Ethics Commission officials said they would not comment on pending or active investigations.

Corbett administration officials defended Tomalis' work, saying he reports to the office every day and works full weeks.

They said that since he was named a special adviser, the position has evolved, primarily because of lack of funding for what was to be one of Tomalis' main duties: implementing a program under which Pennsylvania colleges meet performance-based targets to win new state funding.

Instead, Tomalis has been assigned to also tackle several K-12 issues. Jennifer Branstetter, Corbett's policy secretary, said Tomalis had been asked to help revive the Governor's Schools, a competitive-admission summer program for high school students, and Ready to Succeed, a scholarship program for low- and middle-income Pennsylvania students.

Asked whether Corbett had concerns about Tomalis' work, including whether he was carrying a full workload, Branstetter said: "He's comfortable with the advice Ron has been giving the team on education."

Said acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq, to whom Tomalis reports: "I am the person who would know whether he hasn't been producing. . . . That is not the case. He has not been sitting at home."

Tomalis was an education aide to Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, and also worked in the U.S. Education Department during the administration of President George W. Bush.

He was Corbett's education secretary until May 2013. The Inquirer has reported he decided to leave that post in part because of behind-the-scenes tension between him and some members of Corbett's inner circle.

Many of those insiders said Tomalis' special adviser position amounted to a soft landing, especially given that he was allowed to keep his salary.

At the time, it was said Tomalis was looking for a new job and was not intending to stay for more than a few months.


acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934

@AngelasInk

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