TRENTON – A Newark parents’ group, Secondary Parent Council (SPC), has filed a lawsuit against the city after the group was denied access to records concerning the $100 million gift that Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg pledged last year to the city’s public schools. SPC, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey’s Open Governance Project, filed the suit in Essex County Superior Court today.
“As parents, as taxpayers and as citizens, we have a need and right to know how the money pledged to Newark’s public schools will ultimately serve Newark’s public school students,” said SPC’s Laura Baker, who filed the records request on April 1, 2011.
The group asked for correspondence – under the Open Public Records Act – among Zuckerberg, Mayor Cory Booker, city employees, state government, and other affiliated foundations and corporations related to the donation.
“When Mayor Booker accepted this donation, he stressed the importance of getting input from the community members it affected most. If this is truly an investment in our city’s future, we need to see the transparency we’ve been promised,” said Baker.
After requesting several extensions in order to locate the responsive documents, according to the ACLU, Newark denied the request on July 19.
The city claimed, they said, that the communications between Booker and Zuckerberg were either “not made in the court of the mayor’s official duties,” according to the rejection letter, or are confidential as part of deliberations.
The lawsuit filed today claims that that is not a lawful basis for denying access to the records. A representative of the city did not respond to an immediate request for comment on the suit.
“By invoking executive privilege, the City of Newark has waded into uncharted territory in an attempt to make sure these records never see the light of day,” said Frank Corrado, an attorney with Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson as well as the president of the ACLU-NJ Board of Trustees. “Executive privilege is the province of the Governor; it has never been accepted at the mayoral level in New Jersey.”