Attorney: Tony Vang lives in Fresno Unified boundaries

The Fresno BeeMay 29, 2012 

Despite newly released records that show Tony Vang voted outside the school district, the Fresno Unified school board president maintained through his lawyer Tuesday that he always has lived inside the area he was elected to serve.

The attorney said that Vang's voter registration at 2103 E. Goshen Ave. -- in the Clovis Unified School District -- was a paperwork error. Vang and his wife, Chia Me Vang, own the northeast Fresno house, and Vang changed his address only to have his mail delivered there, said Sacramento attorney Brian Hildreth. The couple spends time on Goshen Avenue most days caring for relatives who live at the house, he said.

Vang declined to be interviewed and deferred all questions to Hildreth, an attorney at Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, who said Vang has no plans to change his responsibilities on the school board. Vang intends to continue serving the school district, and "if somebody tries to challenge him on this, he's going to win and he's going to get his attorney's fees paid," Hildreth said.

Meanwhile, since questions about Vang's residency were first reported in The Bee last week, a local activist says he has filed a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, the agency that most likely would lead an investigation.

Jose Luis Barraza, a director of El Concilio de Fresno, a Latino advocacy nonprofit organization, said he sent a letter to the commission last week stating that Vang had falsified his residency status.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman said the commission had not yet received the complaint.

Barraza said El Concilio was involved in discussions with FUSD about changing school attendance boundary lines, which could affect trustee districts. They negotiated with the district to improve opportunities for Latinos and other minorities to get elected to the school board, he said, and one of their recommendations was to shift Vang's area.

But Fresno Unified said the plan would require cutting Vang's residence out of the trustee area, and district officials dismissed it, Barraza said.

"But in fact, he didn't even live there," Barraza said about Vang.

California Education Code requires that school district elected officials be residents and registered voters in the districts they serve. FUSD policy also requires that trustees reside within the portion of the district they represent -- in Vang's case, the McLane High School area, covering central Fresno and stretching from Belmont Avenue as far north as Shaw Avenue.

The Fresno County Elections Office released documents on Friday showing that 2103 E. Goshen Ave. was Vang's registered address from 2007 to 2010. According to elections officials, Vang would have confirmed the address was correct when visiting the elections department to request an absentee ballot for the November 2008 general election. And in June of that year, Vang returned an absentee ballot mailed to Goshen Avenue.

Vang did in fact "vote in error" from Goshen Avenue, Hildreth said, but never lived there. He said there was "clearly some confusion" in the voter registration process, but it should not be confused with any "malicious intent" by Vang.

Hildreth said Vang's voting mistakes were made during the hardship of caring for his ill mother and mourning her eventual death. He concluded that Vang's request for a vote-by-mail ballot to be sent to Goshen Avenue was a miscommunication between Vang and the elections official.

New details from Hildreth contradict previous statements by neighbors, who said Vang, his wife and child lived on Goshen, and by Vang, who told a Bee reporter recently that his mother and brother lived there. Hildreth clarified on Tuesday that Vang's mother died in 2007, and a physically disabled cousin and aunt lived in the house.

"Nobody is denying that Dr. Vang spends time at the house, but the purpose of his visit there is that he spends time caring for these relatives who are not fully capable of caring for themselves," Hildreth said.

At times over the past 10 years, Vang has listed these three houses as his address:

- 3334 E. Garland Ave., which is in the McLane area. Vang and his wife paid about $210,000 for it in 2004 and lost it to foreclosure in 2011. He was registered to vote under this address from 2004 to 2007 and from 2010 to 2011.

- The Goshen Avenue house, which Vang and his wife bought for about $400,000 in 2005, and is now the only house they own. According to the deed of trust, the home was to be the couple's principal residence. Vang signed his name to this address for traffic school completion last month in a document filed with Fresno County courts. He was registered to vote, and did vote, from this address between 2007 to 2010. Then in April 2010, about seven months before school board elections, Vang changed his address with the elections office from Goshen Avenue back to Garland Avenue.

- 3943 E. Fountain Way, which is in the McLane area, and which Hildreth says Vang is renting from an aunt and uncle. Vang told a reporter recently that he had lived in that house for 10 years. However, he didn't register to vote at that address until August 2011.

Hildreth said the law requires that elected officials have a single, permanent residence in the district they serve, but they are allowed to have multiple properties. He said Vang's permanent residence is the Fountain Way house.

Fresno Unified has defended Vang's eligibility for office, citing the location of the Fountain Way home in the McLane area. The district released its own timeline of Vang's residential history -- which omits the Goshen Avenue address -- and portrays him as a victim of the foreclosure crisis.

District officials have not directly answered questions by The Bee about Vang's residency, and have instead required public records requests be submitted for information about trustee residency issues.

However, the district has not responded to a public records request sent last week for such information.

Last week, trustees Larry Moore and Michelle Asadoorian called for an investigation and a special board meeting to discuss concerns about Vang's residency. They also requested from Superintendent Michael Hanson a detailed account of resources allotted to Vang's residency issues, including legal counsel and staff hours.

Trustee Carol Mills said Vang's residence was a question for legal counsel. Other trustees -- Janet Ryan, Cal Johnson and Valerie Davis -- have remained silent.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hsomerville@fresnobee.com or @heathersomervil on Twitter.

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