ACLU Claims City, State Officials Continue to Dodge Requests for Documents about $100M Donation
Say communication between Facebook founder, officials should be made public
American Civil Liberties Union officials in New Jersey say Newark Mayor Cory Booker and state officials are stonewalling efforts by the organization to retrieve documents about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to the city's public schools.
The city of Newark filed a request Friday in county superior court to dismiss an open public records lawsuit brought by the ACLU in August. The suit, filed on behalf of the education advocacy group Secondary Parent Council, seeks correspondence between Booker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, other officials and Zuckerberg about the cash.
The request comes roughly two months after Booker publicly announced he would release any found documents about the donation.
During a small news briefing Tuesday at the ACLU of New Jersey's headquarters in Newark, the organization's executive director, Deborah Jacobs, said city and state officials are trying to duck the law by using personal email accounts to discuss the money. But she said the state's Open Public Records Act and the Division of Archives and Records Management require disclosure of information concerning city business, whether on a city or private email account.
"They talk about transparency, but when the rubber hits the road, there's nothing happening," she said.
In an email, Esmeralda Cameron, a city spokeswoman, said officials can't discuss pending litigation. "Although the city of Newark is disappointed by the mischaracterizations set forth in the ACLU's article, it declines to comment further as the matter is currently in litigation," she wrote.
City officials have said Booker's involvement with the money has been in a civilian capacity as a board member of Foundation for Newark's Future — the philanthropy group that doles out the cash.
Booker, Christie and Zuckerberg announced the donation last year on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
In September, Anne Torres, a Booker spokeswoman, told this reporter, "A search of the mayor's city-owned BlackBerry and computer revealed no correspondence responsive to the (Open Public Records Act) request." She did not discuss his personal email account.
Meanwhile, Laura Baker, who filed the open records request as a representative of Secondary Parent Council, said she's becoming frustrated as the foundation continues to spend the money.
"We have to connect the dots and know where the cash is going," she said Tuesday at the ACLU office. "How are they going to improve the quality of education for our children in public schools? That's all I want to know."