On August 23, 2011, the ACLU-NJ filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Secondary Parent Council (SPC), against the City of Newark for refusing to release public records. SPC is seeking emails, documents and correspondence about the donation that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made to Newark schools. On September 8, 2011, Newark Mayor Cory Booker spoke about the lawsuit on WBGO and said he would release the records. A link to the audio is at the bottom of this page.
Here is a transcript of that interview.
Andrew Meyer, WBGO (AM): Related question, a follow-up, Mayor. This has to do with the Zuckerberg donation. A group of parents are suing; they want you to release the info on how the money is going to be spent. Why is this information being held so tightly?
Newark Mayor Cory Booker (CB): Well it's not. I mean, that's the confusing thing about it. They're not suing to figure out how the money's being spent, because that's all being made public through the Foundation for Newark's Future, and that's where this has become very confusing. Their lawsuit is actually just to get documents from a year-plus ago of conversations that might have gone on, between, on city emails and the like between Mark Zuckerberg and I. It's a very narrow suit, and we're going to turn over whatever we can find on that.
AM: You're going to release those documents …
CB: Oh, absolutely, anything that's there, and people misunderstand what I'm all upset about. I'm not upset about that. I'm not upset about the parents' lawsuit. What I was upset about is an organization I have a lot of respect for, the ACLU, then launched a public relations campaign, if you read their social media, if you read their website, if you read their various posts, you see that they were talking about, "Tell us what you're doing with the money," which is a whole different topic than, "Give us documents from a year ago between you and Mark Zuckerberg."
The money is being controlled right now by an independent, priva — independent foundation that is making what they're doing very transparent. Nobody's asked them, this parents' group didn't write a letter, didn't approach them to talk to them about spending the money, nor did the ACLU advise their client to go to the people that have the control.
So we're going to release documents that are, you know, scheduling documents, whatever we have, we're going to turn them over. There's really no "there" there. If people really want to know what's happening with this money, talk to Greg Taylor, the head of the Foundation for Newark's Future, talk to the superintendent, who knows pretty much on every investment that's being made, go to the website, and check that out, to know how the money's being spent.
That's why I was frustrated, is because this is such a distraction, and it's duplicitous to say that this money has not, we have not told what we're spending the money on. It's so duplicitous, and really just winding up a lot of false accusations.
So we're happy, people have a right to OPRA whatever they want.
AM: OPRA is the Open Public Records Act.
CB: And I actually talked to my lawyers, who first said, to the lawsuit, "Well, you don't have a right to have this information because it wasn't being done in" my official job. (My job is actually not overseeing schools in any way.) And my response to my lawyers when I found out about that was, "That's crazy, let's release this stuff, even if they don't have a right to it, to stop the suspicion, to stop the veils of secrecy."
I was very upset, in fact, very angry, that then I read the public relations campaign run by the ACLU, who again does a lot of great work, but this was just so duplicitous to have Facebook posts, tweets on their website, stuff saying, "Tell Mayor Booker to tell us what he's doing with the money."
Well first of all, it's no longer me. It's all going to a foundation that has governance and control over it, and they are being incredibly transparent about what they're doing. So, I just wish the tactics weren't so duplicitous.
AM: Just to be clear though, I understand that you sit on the board of the foundation - you have a say, the schools, Superintendent Anderson has a say, and the Zuckerberg foundation all have a say in this, so, you do have some input into this.
CB: Oh absolutely, I'm not saying that I don't. I'm saying that the place, and the locus, for all the activity now is in a foundation. It's not in city documents. You won't see anything going back and forth around us. You'll see an independent foundation, making very, being very transparent. They accuse them of not, even though when I talked to the Star-Ledger reporter, they were like, "Wait a minute, you guys are telling us, putting out press releases" — in fact we're ready to do another one — "putting out press releases about every time you spend a dollar what you're really spending that money on."
So, that's what I resented, was the duplicitousness of saying that they're not telling us what they're doing for the money. The reality is, you're right, the OPRA request that they made for documents from literally over a year ago, we'll get those documents out. I don't think that, again, that that's the issue though. I think the public, what they really want to know is, this money that's come to Newark, what is being done with it and how it's being spent. That is really the issue.