By Andrew Staub | PA Independent
First, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette broke the story that Ron Tomalis, a special adviser to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett on education matters, makes about $140,000 a year, yet hasn’t created much of a paper trail to record whether he’s meeting expectations.
Then, activist and state House candidate Gene Stilp employed his usual strategy, asking the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission to investigate Tomalis, who had been secretary of education for Corbett before moving into the advisory role.
And now — as is the norm in politics — Corbett’s Democratic challenger, Tom Wolf, has seized the situation to blast his opponent. The Campaign for a Fresh Start, a PAC created by Wolf, sent out an email Wednesday morning that posed a simple question: “When will Tom Corbett fire Ron Tomalis?”
UNDER PRESSURE: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s Democratic challenger wants him to fire an adviser after a newspaper report raised questions about how much the official works.
“Tom Corbett’s cuts to education resulted in the layoffs of 20,000 educators, but he made sure Ron Tomalis kept his job,” said Mike Mikus, a PAC spokesman. “After drastically cutting our children’s education, it’s no surprise that Corbett’s oversight of the Department of Education has been severely lacking. If Tom Corbett wants to maintain any shred of credibility on the issue of fiscal responsibility, he will fire Ron Tomalis immediately.”
The Post-Gazette reported that Tomalis had contacted several key education officials. An open-records request returned scant records — including only a handful of emails, no reimbursement records for travel, a barren work calendar and phone logs that showed an average of a little more than one call a day over a year, the newspaper reported.
Stilp used the article as the basis for his complaint. A volunteer firefighter, Stilp said he likes to say that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
“This is a lot of smoke we’re seeing here,” he said.
Despite that, and the unsurprising political pressure from Wolf, it doesn’t seem likely Corbett will heed his opponents’ call.
The governor’s press secretary, Jay Pagni, said while Tomalis’ responsibilities have shifted from their initial focus on higher education to bridging the gap between K-12 and post-secondary education, he’s still held to the same standard as other employees.
Tomalis has been in charge of the reconstitution of the Governor’s Schools, has been involved with the PA STEM competition and worked on the development of a higher-education grant program, Pagni said. He’s met his expectations, Pagni said.
Billy Pitman, a spokesman for Corbett’s campaign, referred a reporter to Pagni for questions about Tomalis, but did say, “As far as Ron Tomalis’ position, I think the administration has made it very clear he’s been very helpful to issues they’re working on.”
While Wolf’s PAC fanned the flames with its push for Tomalis’ dismissal, Pitman responded that it’s simply a tactic to “distract” from the more important issues.
A Department of Education spokesman didn’t return a message seeking an interview with Tomalis.
Staub can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.