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Post & Courier acknowledges an issue with the Aquarium - at last

Warwick Jones, Editor

The Post & Courier's story today about the tardiness of the Aquarium in providing its annual report for 2003 should have been headline news over a week ago. Councilmember Robert George wrote a letter to the Mayor and other councilmembers on August 12, 2004 complaining about the issue and pointing out that the Aquarium had breached the terms of its sub-lease arrangement. The Post & Courier was informed at that time and has waited a week to air the issue.

So why did the P&C carry the story? We would like to think that Charlestonwatch played a role. We have been carrying the story for nearly a week now and perhaps the tardiness of the P& C became too obvious. Charitably, maybe the P&C thought it was of no interest to readers. But how do you explain the fact that it was the lead story on its Local News section?

According to Councilman George's letter to the Mayor, the board of the Aquarium was unlikely to meet before October to approve the accounts and that the audited accounts therefore may not be made available until after the November referendum and elections. Normally the audited accounts are available in April or May. The letter cautioned the Mayor and Council about tolerating "reckless disregard from those it entrusts with the management and safe keeping of the City's assets.

According to the P&C, the Aquarium's executive director Chris Andrews said the delay had stemmed from scheduling issues and not any deliberate attempt to withhold the audited financial statements. Andrews said that "releasing the audit before the board meeting is not an option. We can't, we have to play by the rules."

Mr. Andrews wants to play by the rules? Well, what about the rule that the Aquarium has to make available to members of the public on request a copy of its 990 tax return? This return provides in summary form figures relating to revenues, grants and costs and in many respect is a summary of the annual accounts requested by Councilman George. For the Aquarium, the 990 return is required to be filed with the IRS by the 15th of May. We asked to see a copy last week and were refused. Yet the law says we are entitled to view the document. We wrote a letter to the Chief Financial Officer making the request again, and sent it certified mail. To date, we have not received a reply.

Sorry, there is something fishy here!

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