A month after an order from the office of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR), Delaware County officials continue to hide basic information from the public about the tax dollars they are spending on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs.

Since the county announced in 2022 it was spending $125,000 to hire a DEI officer, DVJournal has requested basic information about its diversity and equity efforts, including total spending, the number of programs and, perhaps more relevant, any data showing the Democrat-run county has a diversity problem that would justify the taxpayer expense.

Instead, DVJ was repeatedly told “we have no records” to avoid releasing the information.

For example, in March, County Solicitor Jonathan Lichtenstein claimed the county conducted a search for information on DEI hiring numbers, targeted numbers, and salary information — and they didn’t exist.

“[The Chief Human Resources Officer] replied that the County did not have such records,” wrote Lichtenstein to an OOR appeals officer.

The appeals officer didn’t buy the explanation.

“One cannot logically infer that every responsive record flows through only [The Chief Human Resources Officer],” determined OOR Officer Catherine Hecker last month. She demanded the county do a more thorough search.

The result? The county still claims it doesn’t have basic information about its own DEI programs or spending.

“Neither of the…inquiries resulted in the finding of any records that were responsive to [your request],” Delaware County Open Records Officer Anne Coogan wrote Delaware Valley Journal in response to the OOR order.

One person who questions the county’s claims is the former DEI director, Lauren Footman. While her salary was made public, she told DVJournal there is more data in the county’s hands.

Footman was fired earlier this year after alleging discrimination by her boss, Chief Administrative Officer Marc Woolley. In a podcast interview with DVJournal at the time, Footman recalled the reaction inside county government to DVJournal’s requests.

“I would try to have conversations…because I believe I saw some of your requests. And they’re like, ‘Oh, well what is this answer? And I’m like, ‘Well, you know that I don’t even have access to the system that has the information so why are you asking me?’ It’s either with HR or the controller.”

According to Footman, the entire DEI effort was a “PR stunt” for elected Democrats on Delaware County Council.

“There were certain council members, particularly the individuals who identify as women on council — Dr. Monica Taylor, Elaine Schaefer, and Christine Reuther — who said that they were prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion when they ran for office.”

One way to disprove this claim would be to release information showing county government was disadvantaging people of color, or women, in its practices or policies. For example, the county’s population is about 22 percent black. If the government workforce is only ten percent black, that would be a fact to bolster the county’s policies.

But county officials have repeatedly refused to release that data when requested by DVJournal, even after the OOR order.

Meanwhile, the DEI spending continues.

Publicly available budget documents contain nebulous language regarding exactly how much more money was used for DEI. Documents from Fiscal Year 2022 list a planned DEI Officer under the county executive director, but no other details.

It was the same last year when Delaware County budget documents mentioned the need for a “supplier diversity program” in Central Purchasing and more DEI awareness for staff.

A series of DEI initiatives was announced later that year that included a $450,000 taxpayer-funded “micro-grant” program for parks, community gardens, and bike facilities. The county spent at least $1,7000 for five directors to receive a DEI certificate from Delaware County Community College and spent an undetermined amount of money for department logos.

A Georgia-based consulting firm was hired for an unknown sum to investigate whether minority and women-owned businesses faced barriers in getting public works contracts. The study looked at contracts from July 2017 through June 2022. It was originally supposed to be completed by the end of May but the deadline was quietly extended to August 2024.

No reason was given. An email to the consultant was not returned.

Taylor Millard writes about politics and public policy.

This article was republished with permission from the Delaware Valley Journal.

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