Easy Ride

The Tanque Verde School Board is preparing to give a key politico's company a sweetheart deal.

The Tanque Verde School Board is primed to bail out a company owned by influential state Sen. Tim Bee and his brother with a real estate deal for a bus yard and office next to the district's headquarters.

The Bee Line, operated by the second-term Republican and his brother and Senate predecessor, Keith Bee, wants to switch from tenant to landlord on a parcel that adjoins the Tanque Verde bus yard and is east of the district offices at 11150 E. Tanque Verde Road.

Taxpayers already subsidized the Bee Line this year after the company fell behind on the $725 monthly rent. Tanque Verde officials also allowed the Bees to use the property after the lease expired in February.

Rather than face eviction, Keith Bee eventually paid the back rent while he simultaneously pitched the proposal for Tanque Verde to use space on the adjoining Bee property. Such an arrangement will clear the Bee buses from the district's lot. More important, Keith Bee is hoping his company will therefore be able to circumvent Pima County zoning and building codes, records show.

Under the proposal, set for board approval Sept. 11, the Bee Line will open its own bus yard and office on two acres of residential-zoned land just north of the district's bus yard. The Bee brothers will then free up space for the Tanque Verde school buses and lease the parcel to the district for $1 a year.

Keith Bee, a five-term senator representing the Tanque Verde Valley and other east Tucson and Green Valley areas, bought the property for $135,000 in 1999, according to county records.

Zoning at CR1 allows not a bus yard but two homes. Without the nominal lease with Tanque Verde, the Bees "would not be able to fence, grade, put down gravel or house a portable office because of zoning issues," Superintendent Denise Ryan told the school board in an Aug. 8 memo.

By signing the nominal lease with Tanque Verde schools, the Bee brothers are hoping to piggyback on land use law that generally allows school districts to use property as they please. County officials say there is no guarantee in this case.

Keith Bee has asserted that the new arrangement will save Tanque Verde taxpayers, but one proposal had the district paying an equal $6,500 share for initial improvements, records show.

Some neighbors already have issues with Bee Line's use of the district's property, particularly when the large touring coach is fired up.

Among the problems cited by Carolyn Gould, director of Tanque Verde school transportation, are "complaints from neighboring houses. Diesel smoke, noise late at night and on weekends. Bee Line has been asked to move their buses in the main parking lot in the morning to 'pre-trip,' them. Only a few drivers are doing this," Gould said in an 2001 assessment.

Exhaust from the coach bus, Gould said, "creates a dust storm, which keeps our district vehicles and vans filthy."

Gould listed five other problems in the 2001 memo and confirmed in a new memo on Aug. 6 to the Tanque Verde board that "all of the problems listed are still problems today."

Tim Bee's position in the Senate--and his role on the appropriations committee--as Tanque Verde progresses with its controversial plan for a new high school prompted at least one board member to demand kid-glove treatment for the Bee Line.

Board member Doug Hughes unilaterally ordered Ryan and Associate Superintendent Marty O'Shea to not rile the Bee brothers while start-stop funding for the high school was on legislative tables, O'Shea said.

"Doug came into my office and told me to back off," O'Shea said. "He told Denise Ryan the same thing. This is when we were talking to Keith Bee about the late rent and the expired lease. You know me; I like to have the document. We didn't have a lease."

O'Shea said Hughes, who sells school textbooks, said he was not solely focused on Tim Bee's vote to preserve funding for the high school, but for educational funding in general.

State policy prohibits members of school boards from issuing individual orders. Directives must be approved by the full board in open session.

But it worked. Tim Bee subsequently did not recuse himself from a key vote on funding for the high school, which has caused civil war in Tanque Verde and prompted a recall drive of Board President Dr. Sherrylyn Young.

Neither Hughes nor Tim Bee returned calls from The Weekly.