Alleged "ghost job" aide quits Pa. education post

Ron Tomalis was an adviser to Gov. Corbett.
Ron Tomalis was an adviser to Gov. Corbett. (AP, file)
Posted: August 14, 2014

HARRISBURG - Former Pennsylvania Education Secretary Ron Tomalis has resigned as a special adviser to Gov. Corbett, amid questions about his duties and allegations that his position amounted to a "ghost job" on the state payroll.

Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq on Tuesday announced Tomalis will leave his $140,000-a-year job as an adviser on higher education issues in two weeks. Democrats, however, vowed to keep the controversy alive in the gubernatorial race.

Corbett had defended Tomalis after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month reported he had done little since taking the adviser job after resigning as education secretary in May 2013 - while keeping the same salary.

"Ron has been committed to Pennsylvania's education system since the early days of my administration," Corbett said in a statement. "He has worked closely with Secretary Dumaresq and the Department of Education to shape programs and policies that are in the best interest of students. I thank him for his work and commitment to education."

The administration said Tomalis, a former education consultant in President George W. Bush's administration, worked on several education initiatives, including the Ready to Succeed Scholarship program and the Pennsylvania STEM Competition to showcase students' skills and expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Using records obtained through the state's Right to Know law, the Post-Gazette cited Tomalis' spare work calendar, phone logs that barely averaged a call a day, scant e-mails, and little interaction with some Pennsylvania universities and higher education agencies.

In his resignation letter, Tomalis cited "recent events" as the reason he was leaving and said that he has "been engaged in conversations with other organizations regarding new opportunities." He did not elaborate and could not be reached later for comment.

Tomalis is one of three finalists for the president's position at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which pays $327,000, according to the Patriot-News/

Harrisburg activist Gene Stilp has asked both the state Ethics Commission and the federal government to investigate whether Tomalis was, in fact, doing the work he was being paid for, alleging he was holding a "ghost job."

"I am not withdrawing my federal and state complaints as to whether or not he was a 'ghost' employee," Stilp said Tuesday, adding his complaint also involves what he called an attempted cover-up by the secretary of education.

The Tomalis controversy has flared as an issue in the governor's race and is likely to continue. For the past two weeks, Democrats have blasted Corbett almost daily for taking care of a crony.

Tomalis' resignation was announced Tuesday just as top supporters of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf and several Philadelphia Democrats were beginning a telephone press conference to call for his ouster.

Paying Tomalis so much at a time of deep cuts in education spending is "nothing short of scandalous," said Katie McGinty, chairwoman of Campaign for a Fresh Start, a PAC associated with Wolf.

McGinty, a a former Department of Environmental Protection secretary under Gov. Rendell and a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said an independent investigation should determine if Tomalis did actual work for the state, and if he did not, whether Dumaresq tried to cover up a ghost job.

"We also need to have a full investigation and accounting," she said. "Look, where there's smoke, there's fire."

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