The mayor of New Jersey's largest city did an about-face Monday after saying he would release documents requested by the American Civil Liberties Union, while speaking on a radio talk show last week.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker said Thursday on WBGO's monthly "Newark Today" that correspondence about the donation of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million to the city's public schools would be turned over to the ACLU.
"Their lawsuit is actually just to get documents from a year-plus ago of conversations that might have gone on (in) ... city emails and the like between Mark Zuckerberg and I," he said on the show. "It's a very narrow suit and we're going to turn over whatever we can find on that."
But city officials said Monday they'd only release correspondence between Booker and other officials — not between the mayor and Zuckerberg. That's because no such correspondence exists, according to Anne Torres, a Booker spokeswoman. "A search of the mayor's city-owned BlackBerry and computer revealed no correspondence responsive to the (Open Public Records Act) request," she said about communication between Booker and the Facebook founder.
Another caveat appears to be whether communiqués between Booker and officials about the donation exist. On the radio show, Booker said he'd turn over "anything that's there."
Deborah Jacobs, the executive director of the ACLU in New Jersey, 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.
"What would be a positive move would be if they release all the pertinent records," she said.
, claims Newark violated public records laws by not releasing correspondence between officials about the donation.
The 30-year-old advocacy group, made up of parents and grandparents of Newark students, had filed an open records request April 5 to review correspondence between Zuckerberg, Booker, Gov. Chris Christie and Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. But after two extensions, that request was rejected by city officials in July — prompting the lawsuit.
Laura Baker, who filed the records request as a representative of the parent council, said she'll "wait to see what (the city) come(s) up with."
"It depends on how much information they're going to release and if they're going to live up to the original statement that there will be transparency," she said Monday when reached by phone at her home. "We're just holding them accountable."
Torres said the city has disclosed where the cash is going, primarily through local media outlets.
A July 19 letter from Newark's corporation counsel to Secondary Parent Council claims any relevant communication between Booker and Zuckerberg or any other person "were not made in the course of the Mayor's official duties and are therefore exempt from disclosure under OPRA." The letter also states if Booker was "exercising his official duties as Mayor," the requested records are still exempt because of executive privilege.
Booker, Christie and Zuckerberg announced the donation last September on the Oprah Winfrey Show.