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UPDATE: Corbett adviser Tomalis resigns

Published by Mike Pound on .

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UPDATE: Ron Tomalis has stepped down from his position as higher education adviser to Gov. Tom Corbett. In his letter of resignation, Mr. Tomalis said he would leave the controversial job Aug. 26 to pursue other unspecified opportunities:

However, as you know, I have been engaged in conversations with other organizations regarding new opportunities, and given recent events, I believe it is in the best interest of the Administration that I resign my position with the Commonwealth, effective August 26, 2014, to pursue those endeavors.

In a release issued by Gov. Corbett's office, Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq thanked Mr. Tomalis for his contributions to the department:

Ron has truly been an asset to me and the department since I assumed the role of education secretary. He has been instrumental in overseeing the creation and re-establishment of important educational programs that benefit the students of the commonwealth.  I wish him all the best.

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It shouldn't be too difficult for the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett to prove that Ron Tomalis holds an actual job -- one that's worth the $139,000 salary he pulls -- in the state Department of Education.

All we'd need to see is some evidence of his work, right?

But that's a little tough to measure when officials in the department delete work-related emails every day, in an apparent violation of the department's data retention policy.

Gov. Corbett and current Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq have both defended the advisory position created for Mr. Tomalis, the former state education secretary, saying he puts in full 40-hour weeks in an office just down the hall from Ms. Dumaresq.

The trouble is that a review of the adviser's work calendar show very little work was scheduled in the last year. Officials at Penn State and Pitt, for example, say officials at either university haven't had contact with Mr. Tomalis since he took the job -- a curious thing, since the bulk of his responsibilties deal with the state's colleges and universities.

And then there are the emails. In seperate interviews in July, Ms. Dumaresq gave two reasons for turning over just five email messages produced by Mr. Tomalis in the last year. She told the Post-Gazette July 24 that Mr. Tomalis prefers face-to-face interaction over email. And on July 31, she told a Harrisburg television state that department officials delete emails every night.

That's the problem. The department's policy, obtained by the Post-Gazette after two informal requests and a Right-To-Know request, sets schedules for retaining messages that are considered public records, and only "transitory records" -- items not related to state business, reference materials from outside organizations or personal messages, for example -- can be regularly purged.

However, the five emails released from Mr. Tomalis' records, which came in response to a Right-To-Know request from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, had dates from February, May and June and all appeared to be "transitory" in nature. Two involved registering for a conference. Two others dealt with an invitation for a department representative to serve on a governing board of an education and business venture in India and a fifth email was one in which Mr. Tomalis asked for clarification about the number of higher education institutions in the state.

It's a bit tough to decide which is worse for the Education Department and Gov. Corbett -- the complete lack of evidence that Mr. Tomalis does any work whatsoever or the apparent violation of the department's own policy. Either way, there is more fuel for those from both parties who have questions about Mr. Tomalis, his job and his salary.

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