Full report as soon as possible best for Strive

Strive to Excel's surest path to restoring public confidence is full financial disclosure -- and the sooner, the better.

Attorney Bob Arundell's announcement that the group was requesting a three-month extension to file this year's tax return was disappointing, but not surprising. Arundell noted in his letter to the newspaper that an automatic extension available to nonprofits had been used for the past several years.

In truth, the group has received the automatic extension and an additional three-month extension, which is not automatic, for the past three years, filing its tax return in April for fiscal years 2008 and 2009 and March for fiscal year 2010, according to its tax returns.

We won't be surprised if it takes that long for the fiscal year 2011 return to get filed, but we hope it doesn't come to that. And we hope it doesn't take too long for an independent audit of the group's finances to be completed.

Unfortunately, that endeavor is off on the wrong foot.

Board member Tom Gardo said an audit probably would be done for the most recent fiscal year only and not for the three years Strive president Tim Singleton operated without board oversight.

The reason given only shows all the more why the audit should go back all three years: "The funds just aren't there (for a multiyear audit)," Gardo said, "and actually, we've already identified the problem -- Tim didn't keep good records."

The good news for donors and taxpayers is that Singleton now must get approval from a board officer before spending any Strive money, and Gardo said the board would release the full results of an audit, not just the recommendations that come out of it.

The bad news is that the group is refusing to release records for Strive's spending and its reimbursements to the Beaufort County School District for Singleton's salary and benefits.

The board's new chairman, Ike Evans, responded to the newspaper's request for the records, with this: "After reviewing your request, the time and expense to comply given extremely limited resources, the board's commitment to move forward and after consulting appropriate counsel, we have decided not to provide the information you have requested."

Time and expense to comply with the request don't meet the requirements of the state's Freedom of Information Act. The board's commitment to move forward, while laudable, also isn't a viable reason for not following the law.

"After consulting appropriate counsel," is much more likely the reason the group isn't delivering the documents.

But the state's open records law applies to organizations supported in whole or in part by public funds.

The school district has provided Strive rent-free space at Hilton Head Island High School; processed Singleton's payroll check and benefits plan for the past three years; and provided liability insurance under a blanket policy.

As of Dec. 31, Strive must vacate its office space in the school, and the district will no longer provide payroll processing, access to benefits or liability insurance.

The group will learn the value of that public support when it starts paying for the services the district has been providing.

The sooner Strive offers full disclosure, the sooner it can get back in good standing with the community that has supported it.