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Records show Tomalis reported to work, key Pennsylvania senator says

| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 4:08 p.m.
Ron Tomalis, the former state education secretary who stayed on as a senior adviser Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, quit Aug. 12, 2014, more than two weeks after a newspaper raised questions about his duties and work schedule.
Ron Tomalis, the former state education secretary who stayed on as a senior adviser Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, quit Aug. 12, 2014, more than two weeks after a newspaper raised questions about his duties and work schedule.
Ronald Tomalis, when education secretary, speaks with reporters and editors at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review offices, Thursday, March 28, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Ronald Tomalis, when education secretary, speaks with reporters and editors at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review offices, Thursday, March 28, 2013.

HARRISBURG — The chairman of the Senate Education Committee said Department of Education officials showed him documentation that indicates former Education Secretary Ron Tomalis was not a ghost employee, as political opponents of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett assert.

Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, said on Wednesday that the agency produced a record of Tomalis' electronic “swipes” to enter the state parking garage, and those records show “he was there.”

“I'm telling you, he was not a ghost employee,” Folmer said.

The senator had planned to hold a hearing on Tomalis but now sees no reason to do so. He said he had a “very intense” meeting with acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq, who vouched for Tomalis' work as an adviser to Corbett.

Folmer said he can't say what Tomalis did on the job, only that he was at the agency as required, except during an initial period when he worked from home.

The department released records showing Tomalis sent five emails and made about a phone call a day while advising Corbett on higher education matters from May 2013 through this July. Tomalis, who resigned effective next Tuesday, did not return calls seeking comment.

State records show Corbett had no scheduled meetings with Tomalis, who was paid $139,000 a year. The Tribune-Review obtained copies of the governor's calendar showing no meetings from May 15, 2013 — the date Tomalis became his adviser after almost 2½ years as Education secretary — through mid-July.

Department spokesman Tim Eller said because Tomalis reported directly to Dumaresq, “his meetings and interactions occurred with the secretary.”

Folmer cited 700 emails in the department's possession. He said he thought they were Tomalis' emails. But when questioned, Folmer could not say what time period the emails covered and whether all of them date to Tomalis' appointment as a cabinet secretary in 2011.

A discrepancy exists over the emails. Eller said they are Dumaresq's emails.

Folmer said he's irritated the department “isn't being transparent.”

Dumaresq has said Tomalis was engaged in his work on higher and secondary education issues while an adviser.

The 15-month extension of Tomalis' government service provided him a 25 percent pension boost, increasing his annual pension by $7,000 to $34,600, because of a higher multiplier used in pension calculations, The Morning Call of Allentown reported on Saturday.

“I can tell you definitively there was no decision to keep Tomalis on to get a higher pension,” Corbett's spokesman Jay Pagni told the Trib.

The lack of scheduled meetings adds to critics' questions about Tomalis' work schedule while advising Corbett.

If the department had more evidence, it was “dumb” not to provide it, Folmer said.

Dumaresq recently told ABC/27 TV that she and Tomalis would “delete and cleanse (emails) each evening.” Eller later said they deleted inconsequential emails.

Folmer believes they followed policies on email retention set by the Corbett administration, which allows deletion of “transitory” emails.

Tomalis has become a campaign issue — a target of the Campaign for a Fresh Start, a political committee formed by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf.

“For weeks, Tom Corbett has failed to provide any evidence to support his assertion that his ghost employee, Ron Tomalis, actually worked,” said Mike Mikus, spokesman for Fresh Start Chair Katie McGinty, when asked about Folmer's comments. “There were five emails, few phone calls, and no meetings with Tom Corbett. Now Tom Corbett is providing vague records in a secret meeting that still fail to show that he actually did any work. It's time to come clean.”

Said Corbett's campaign spokesman Billy Pitman: “This is nothing more than a continued attempt by the Wolf campaign to distract from Tom Wolf's lack of transparency and refusal to answer questions.”

“For Corbett, it's such a distraction,” said Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics. “If he was working as an adviser, I don't see any problem with that.”

There ought to be a way for Tomalis to document what he has done — and he should do so, Coleman said. The unfolding story undercuts Corbett's message as “an efficient manager working toward a lean state government.”

Tomalis kept his Education secretary salary as an adviser; Dumaresq is paid the same.

It doesn't help that the “governor's big political fight with the Legislature is on pensions,” and an ex-aide gets a pension boost through a hefty salary and formula change, Coleman said.

Charlie Gerow, a Republican public relations specialist whose firm has a contract with the Corbett campaign, said Fresh Start's criticism is “nothing new — just ramping up the rhetoric.”

Gerow, who emphasized that he does not speak for the campaign, believes Tomalis should respond.

“Any shot across your bow that doesn't get returned is a problem,” Gerow said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or Staff writer Melissa Daniels contributed to this report.

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