Newark officials release Facebook grant emails

December 26, 2012 6:17:59 AM PST
Newark officials have released dozens of internal emails related to a $100 million grant to the city's schools made by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The release of the heavily redacted correspondence came just days after The Associated Press reported a state judge ordered Mayor Cory Booker to release the emails following a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a group representing Newark schoolchildren.

"It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit and ruling from the judge to force the City of Newark to turn over public documents," Ed Barocas, legal director for New Jersey's ACLU chapter, said in a statement issued Tuesday night. "We and our clients will now review the documents, and if there are no bombshells in these emails, the public has a right to ask why the city was so adamant in its refusal to release them, costing the city significant legal fees."

Booker, Gov. Chris Christie and Zuckerberg announced the grant on Oprah Winfrey's show in September 2010, and the lawsuit had sought greater transparency about who was overseeing the spending of the money.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, the AP and other news outlets made requests for the emails under the state's Open Public Records Act.

The city had sought to withhold numerous emails sent between mid-September 2010 and late June 2011, claiming they were exempt from open-records laws. But in her ruling released Thursday, state Superior Court Judge Rachel Davidson wrote: "It is not clear that the executive privilege applies to mayors at all, but even assuming that it does, it does not apply here."

Davidson had ordered that some parts of the emails should be redacted to protect individuals' privacy in two cases: Where a private individual was the recipient of an email from a public official, and in one instance where an email between two private citizens was forwarded by one of them to Booker and others in his office.

Many of the emails reviewed by the AP on Tuesday focus on the efforts by Booker and others to recruit donors to match part of the grant.

In one email, Booker associate Bari Mattes tells Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg that Winfrey has been approached - the "ask has been made" - with no response.

"So this means no or that, as Gayle King said, she loves a surprise - if no surprise, she will come off the list I fear."

The Star-Ledger first reported the release of the emails.

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