Demise of Strive mentoring group tops 2011 story list

tbarton@islandpacket.comDecember 31, 2011 

Two thousand eleven was not Tim Singleton's year.

The one-time Seahawk quarterback was fired as Hilton Head Island High School's head football coach in November after a season in which he was suspended and the Seahawks racked up fines and penalties from the S.C. High School League for eligibility infractions.

Singleton also lost his job as president of a nonprofit mentoring group as scrutiny of the organization mounted.

Strive to Excel ceased operations effective Dec. 31, following four months of controversy over the group's finances and board governance.

The decision to fold was based upon "uncertain conditions of the local economy, combined with other considerations," according to a news release.

Strive came under scrutiny in late summer after it was discovered Singleton had raised his pay by more than $41,000 in 2009-10, a fiscal year in which Strive's revenue declined 20 percent, according to federal tax filings.

Singleton's 42-percent increase was in apparent violation of the organization's bylaws, which required the board to conduct annual reviews of the president and approve any changes in his compensation. The board met infrequently in recent years and struggled to assemble a quorum when it did. According to Strive records, the board hadn't held a formal meeting since April 2008 until it reconstituted this September.

The Beaufort County School District had long provided Strive with free office space at Hilton Head Island High School and provided payroll and benefits service for Singleton. The district ended both arrangements and Strive was told it would have to vacate its office space by Dec. 31.

The decision to shutter Strive means Singleton no longer works at Hilton Head High in any capacity.

Hilton Head High officials have said they would place Strive students in other programs or connect them with other opportunities to help prepare them for college.

The nonprofit's closure and the controversy it engendered was voted the top local news story of 2011 by the staff of The Island Packet.

TIMBER!

Trees fell this fall at the Hilton Head Island Airport following months of legal wrangling between Beaufort County and a historic native-island congregation that sits near the north end of the runway. A judge in May ruled in the county's favor and later lifted a stay protecting the trees while St. James Baptist Church appealed. The judge said the trees posed a hazard and needed to be cut to meet federal safety guidelines. Airport officials are now moving ahead with plans to trim other trees near the airport and are working on plans for a longer runway.

COUNCILMAN LASHES OUT

Hilton Head Island Town Councilman Bill Ferguson hopped on the angry train in 2011. Council's longest-serving member pleaded guilty Dec. 2 to misdemeanor criminal domestic violence. Ferguson, who initially faced a felony charge stemming from an argument with his wife, agreed to complete anger-management counseling to avoid jail time. He also accosted fellow councilman George Williams, Jr. before an April meeting. Ferguson, under pressure from town officials, publicly apologized and attributed his behavior to health problems. He was hospitalized in May at the VA hospital in Charleston and returned to his duties on council later that month. The native-islander and Vietnam veteran said he feels better now that he's "sticking to" his medication for several illnesses, including diabetes and exposure to Agent Orange. "I created my own monster by not taking care of myself," he said. Ferguson is up for re-election in November.

BLUFFTON FOOTBALL MAKES STATE TITLE GAME

South Pointe pulled the plug on a memorable Bluffton High School football season. The Stallions took out Bluffton, 42-27, to win the Class 3-A football state championship and end the Bobcats' undefeated season. The Bobcats were forced to settle for runner-up in the school's first trip to the state championship.

TEEN DIES AFTER ALCOHOL-RELATED CRASH

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office concluded alcohol was a factor in a Hilton Head Island crash that killed one teen and injured four others. Hilton Head Preparatory School senior Kendall Walton, 17, died after crashing a car into a tree in Indigo Run Plantation Nov. 17. Investigators determined alcohol found at the scene was purchased by Walton using an ID that did not belong to her. One of the injured teens told investigators Walton had driven him and another youth around in the BMW while all three were taking shots from a bottle of liquor. Walton dropped them off at about 7:30 p.m. and returned with two other teen passengers to pick them up again at about 9 p.m. The BMW smashed into the tree about 20 minutes later. No charges were filed by the Sheriff's Office; the accident is still under investigation by the S.C. Highway Patrol.

COMPANY'S SCANS A SCAM?

A Hilton Head health screening company, Cancer Check America, shut down amid scrutiny of its link to a similar company that ran afoul of regulators in other states. Some customers claimed they were duped into signing contracts worth thousands of dollars for years of CT scans, only to learn later that the tests were useless for diagnosing illnesses. Complaints led to investigations by S.C. officials into the company's practices and that of its medical director, a long-time Hilton Head physician. The company offered preventive screening to detect and measure heart and lung disease and some cancers. Several prominent national medical experts, boards and associations have said the company marketed scans to people who don't need them, with little proof the benefits outweigh potential harm from radiation and false positives.

COMMERCE PARK CONNIPTION

Tempers flared at Beaufort County Council when dozens of people addressed elected officials about a proposed $2.5 million purchase of the Beaufort Commerce Park. The Lowcountry Economic Network -- at the time the county's main business recruiter -- bought the park in 2006 but could no longer afford to make payments on the loan. Council ultimately rejected the purchase after two appraisals valued the property significantly below the asking price. The network folded in June.

POPULATION BOOM

Beaufort County's population jumped 34.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census figures released in March. Only three other South Carolina counties -- York, Horry and Dorchester -- grew faster. Bluffton's population in particular exploded, increasing by 883 percent over the past decade. "It's just the quality of life," Mayor Lisa Sulka said at the time. "People want to live in a wonderful place."

COUNTY EMS STUDY

Beaufort County's EMS system provides "a sound level of service," but there's room for improvement, according to a study presented in March. The review was prompted by incidents that raised questions about the quality and speed of the county's EMS care. Consultants spoke highly of county medics, but said as much as two minutes could be shaved from EMS response times. "The best EMS system in the United States can have a bad call," consultant Dave Hunt said at the time, "and that does not mean it's a bad system or a bad medic."

DREDGING BACKLASH

Sea Pines leaders abandoned a push for legislation creating a special tax within the gated community to pay for dredging its waterways following outcry from homeowners. A short-term plan to dredge Harbour Town Yacht Basin was also derailed after Calibogue Cay property owners rejected a request for one-time use of the community's disposal site. Sea Pines officials have since shifted their focus on building support for dumping spoil dredged from Sea Pines marinas and creeks into Calibogue Sound.

Reporters Kyle Peterson and Rachel Heaton contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHilton Head

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