In the months leading up to the firing of its first diversity officer, Delaware County repeatedly rejected requests from Delaware Valley Journal regarding the county’s DEI spending, or any data of a diversity or inclusion problem.

DVJournal’s Right-to-Know Law requests have included information on the county’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) “hiring numbers, targeted numbers, and salary information within the county.” Also requested were data on the race and gender of the county government’s workforce, to compare with the population as a whole — a potential indicator of diversity failures, or evidence that the county never had a problem and merely launched the program as a “PR stunt.”

That’s the view of fired DEI officer Lauren Footman, who discussed the county’s actions in an extended podcast interview with DVJournal. In the interview, she described her hiring as a “campaign promise.” She also revealed she was aware of DVJournal’s repeated requests for funding and diversity data and that those requests were not filled.

Delco wouldn’t budge, with Open Records Officer Anne M. Coogan claiming that “we have no records that are responsive to your request.”

But according to Footman, the data is available. The county just has no interest in sharing it.

“This [Delaware County] council, even if they were paying for services that should have been able to give us that data, they didn’t prioritize the implementations of those services,” Footman recalled. “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.”

First Amendment advocates said the county needs to stop hiding.

“The question here is, ‘Do they have access to this information? Is it in their possession, custody, or control?’” Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, told DVJournal. “And if they do, it exists for purposes of the Right-to-Know Law and has to be provided unless a valid exception applies. And I don’t know that there would be a valid exception to this kind of information to allow them to deny access. It’s basically aggregated data.”

DVJournal has filed an appeal with Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records.

Based on the available data, it appears Delaware County spent about $1 million on DEI salaries and programming, though the real number could be higher. Footman earned $125,000 annually, and she told DVJournal about another $550,000 in grants the county received to spend on DEI staff and activities.

The other question is whether Delaware County ever had a diversity problem to begin with. Once again, Delco officials fought the release of updated data about the race and gender of its workforce. But based on what DVJournal was able to obtain, it appears the county government’s employees closely matched the ethnic and gender makeup of the county’s population.

When asked if she witnessed any evidence of a diversity, equity, or inclusion problem in Delaware County, Footman pointed to the lack of data.

Former Council Chair Wallace Nunn said the government appears more interested in using taxpayer dollars to check off a policy box than in finding real solutions.

He used the hiring of Footman and Chief Sustainability Officer Francine Locke, who received yearly salaries of more than $100,000, as prime examples.

“We’re just spending money, over $40 million in two years, just on [new positions in the county],” Nunn told DVJournal. “My estimate is that somewhere between a $60 and 70 million deficit built into their budget which they’re going to have to address over the next two years because they’ve run out of COVID money.”

Footman told DVJournal she and then-Executive Director Howard Lazarus would meet regularly on funding issues. The county used $475,000 in federal taxpayer dollars for some staff expenses. That cash was also used for a micro-grant Community Partnering Program for community gardens, pocket parks, and bicycle facilities.

When it turned to tougher policies, including technological upgrades for Human Resources and contract procurement opportunities, Footman recounted that allies were few. “I often didn’t hear back around those types of things,” she said.

Council President Dr. Monica Taylor and Councilmembers Christine Reuther and Elaine Paul Schaefer declined to respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, county spokesperson Adrienne Marofsky said the county “continues to have staff dedicated to DEI efforts and we continue our work to infuse DEI into county practices…

“In February, the county contracted with a provider to assist in reviewing our DEI work thus far and providing recommendations on how to continue the successful implementation of the DEI office.”