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Corbett administration fumbled Tomalis response

HARRISBURG

The saga of Ronald Tomalis, the former state Education secretary and a top adviser to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, is a case study in lousy crisis communications.

It's a “scandal,” according to Fresh Start, the adjunct to the campaign of Democrat gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf. It's a “manufactured scandal,” says Corbett's campaign.

The issue is how much and how often Mr. Tomalis worked for the $139,000 he collected for 15 additional months as Corbett's higher education adviser after ending his tenure as Education secretary.

Fresh Start flailed it for about a month and probably won't let up. And the Corbett administration has played into Fresh Start's hands — repeatedly.

For one, the Department of Education often was defensive in responding to inquiries. The department took a beating for three weeks before finally releasing Tomalis' electronic “swipes” in and out of a state garage. It showed he's not a “ghost employee,” as the Dems claimed.

The records did not show, however, how much work he did. I asked the department repeatedly for Tomalis' work product — reports, summaries of reports and proposals. None ever were produced.

It didn't help that Tomalis sent only five emails as Corbett's higher education guru.

As Education secretary, Tomalis was at the heart of the firestorm over the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But he was a background figure. He was on the Penn State Board of Trustees by virtue of his position and undoubtedly was well versed on all of Corbett's positions on handling the explosive matter, a case Corbett initiated as attorney general.

Tomalis' emails on the board have been subject to numerous Right to Know Law requests. Did he largely stop emailing after seeing how they can be examined by the media? Or were they wiped out by the “delete and cleanse” email policy each evening at the department, according to Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq?

She made those comments to a Harrisburg TV station. This was a major error. Belatedly the department said she was referring to non-issue, personal emails.

The “delete and cleanse” description, though, is haunting. If true, it flies in the face of state email retention policies.

Then there was the office sign. In an effort to “prove” Tomalis was coming to work, Dumaresq had a sign with Tomalis' name on it placed on his office door last month — after the story hit the media. It was ordered from the Department of General Services in the final days of Tomalis' tenure. Talk about looking suspicious and phony.

The same TV station reported that Tomalis had no phone or office number.

There's no evidence that Tomalis did anything wrong. But there's plenty of evidence that the Corbett administration mishandled responding to the matter.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or [email protected]).


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