After repeatedly ignoring requests from Delaware Valley Journal — and following embarrassing revelations by a high-profile former employee —  Delaware County has been ordered to conduct a more thorough search and hand over documents about its controversial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts.

The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records sided with DVJournal in a Right-to-Know (RTK) request, declaring the county had not responded “in good faith” to the news outlet’s request for public records related to its spending on DEI initiatives.

At issue are two questions DVJournal believes are of public interest: How much tax money did Delaware County spend on diversity initiatives, and was there any evidence the county suffered from a lack of diversity to justify the expenditures?

DVJournal’s inquiries became more relevant when it learned in April that the county’s DEI Officer, Lauren Footman, was fired after claiming to be a victim of discrimination at the hands of Chief Administrative Officer Marc Woolley. Footman told DVJournal she was aware the county had received DVJournal’s requests for information and refused to make the data available.

Delco officials stymied DVJournal RTK requests – which include hiring numbers, targeted numbers, and salary information from January 2021 to February 2024, for months. DVJournal also sought any written letters, emails, and all email attachments related to DEI hiring, targeted numbers, and salary information from June 2021 to January 2024.

The county claimed the Chief Human Resources Officer searched for the records in February but didn’t find them. DVJournal appealed to the state.

Delaware County attempted a similar line of defense to OOR. The county claimed on March 1 that its so-called “good faith search” for DEI information turned up nothing.

That didn’t fly with an OOR hearing officer. Citing the 2016 Uniontown Newspaper, Inc. v. Pa. Department of Corrections case, the OOR officer said on April 19 that the agency must show “through detailed evidence…from individuals with knowledge of the agency’s records” that it searched for all relevant documents.

“The evidence submitted by the County is devoid of detail which would permit the OOR to conclude that a good faith search was conducted as there is no detail related to what record locations were searched or which potential custodians were contacted in search for records responsive,” the OOR said.

The OOR added that it was ridiculous for Delco County Clerk Anne M. Coogan, who also serves as Delco’s Open Records Officer, to assume that every record on DEI went through the county’s Chief Human Resources Officer.

“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 told DVJournal in an extended podcast interview. “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.”

When asked if she had seen any evidence that job applicants of color were not receiving equitable treatment or if the county was in any way discriminating, Footman said she was not given access to the relevant data either.

The county has 30 days to do its good faith search and provide DVJournal with the records.

Coogan said that the OOR’s final determination was under review and “the County will respond or appeal within the 30-day period.”

The OOR decision could impact more than just Delco.

Officials with Chester and Montgomery Counties made similar claims that they searched for records related to DEI hiring numbers, targeted numbers, and salary information but that no records existed. Montgomery County denied setting DEI hiring goals.

Appeals are pending with the OOR.