NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – 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.
According to the correspondence, the social networking site offered the huge grant in the hopes that it would spur contributions from donors. That plan never came to fruition, the e-mails show.
The heavily redacted correspondence was sent to The Star-Ledger of Newark late Monday night. That came just days after 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.
Besides the Star-Ledger, The Associated Press and other news outlets also 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 issued 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.
Emails reviewed Tuesday night by the AP showed how Booker’s aides and others courted wealthy donors.
In one email, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, wondered if Winfrey would make a donation. Bari Mattes, Booker’s long-time fundraiser, responded that Winfrey had not yet responded to the “ask” but might make a surprise gift.
“If no surprise, she will come off the list, I fear,” Mattes wrote.
Another email correspondence shows the Facebook founder suggesting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donate $10 million to $15 million. The foundation ultimately gave $3 million to the cause.
The emails that were released do not mention Gov. Christie, though he was instrumental in securing the final $50 million in matching funds needed to secure Zuckerberg’s full donation, the Star-Ledger reported.
Newark’s public school system is the state’s largest, with 75 schools and a student population of about 40,000, according to its website. The schools have been plagued for years by low test scores, poor graduation rates and crumbling buildings.
The $100 million pledge to the schools was announced in the fall of 2010.
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