No good deed comes unpunished, right? The ACLU today filed a lawsuit [PDF] against pretty much everyone in Newark (not to mention Governor Chris Christie) to get to the bottom of Mark Zuckerberg's not-at-all-suspicious $100 million donation to the city's school system last year. They don't want to stop the donation, they just want to find out how it came to be, and the Newark is not making that easy. Essentially the suit seems to come down to the question "whose leg do you have to hump to get some transparency here?"
The ACLU's motion comes on behalf of the 30-year-old Newark advocacy group The Secondary Parent Council which, since April 5, has been trying to get copies of communications regarding the massive donation from everyone including Mayor Cory Booker, Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, former education commissioner Bret Schundler, deputy commissioner Rochelle Hendricks, the Newark City Council and members of the state legislature. At first the City Clerks office seemed to be okay with the request, though they thought it would take a bit, but then they weren't.
After numerous requests (and promises from the Clerks office that the communications were forthcoming) the city suddenly changed its mind on July 12 and told the SPC that "a Custodian has no legal duty to conduct research to locate records potentially responsive to the Complainant's request." Further they say that Booker's involvement in securing the donation "were not made in the course of the Mayor's official duties and are therefore exempt from disclosure under OPRA [the Open Public Records Act]" and even if it were the city says he is protected by executive privilege (how Cheney!). Needless to say neither the SPC or the ACLU liked that. So they've decided to sue.
“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,” Laura Baker, who filed the open records request as a representative of the SPC and has a granddaughter in Newark public schools, said in a statement.
The motion filed today argues that the SPC (and taxpayers in general) "have a strong interest in ensuring that the appropriate public officials, rather than private individuals, decide how to allocate the donated funds; or alternatively, an interest in knowing to what extent the private provenance of these funds affects the allocation of decisions."