FUSD board president Tony Vang’s residence in question
Where does Fresno Unified board president Tony Vang really live?
Is it the home in northeast Fresno, in Clovis Unified School District, that he and his wife bought for $400,000 in 2005? Neighbors say he lives there with his wife and small child.
Or does he live in a modest house in the central Fresno district he’s been elected to serve? Vang doesn’t own that house, but he says it’s been his home for 10 years.
A lot could depend on the answers, especially this: Whether Vang has met legal requirements for his board position for the 10 years he’s held it. A staunch supporter of FUSD Superintendent Michael Hanson, Vang can be counted on to help maintain a pro-Hanson majority on a divided school board. Without his vote, Hanson’s dominance of the board would be less certain.
Fresno County Schools Superintendent Larry Powell, who officially calls school elections in the county, said state law requires each trustee to live within the school district’s boundaries — no exceptions.
“If you’re not living in the district, you’re not in the office,” Powell said.
Vang and the Fresno Unified administration insist he’s only lived within his district. In recent days, the newly expanded public relations staff of the district has launched a campaign portraying Vang as the victim of the nationwide mortgage crisis, forced to live in a rental house near McLane High while he supports a son at Stanford University.
But property, court and election documents give different information about Vang’s residence. As recently as last month, Vang signed a traffic court document listing 2103 East. Goshen Avenue. in northeast Fresno as his address.
And from December 2007 to April 2010, he was registered to vote — and did vote — as a resident of the Goshen Avenue home, far from his district.
Vang has declined to be interviewed about where he lives. After two brief conversations Friday — one at each house — he has not returned multiple messages left for him this week by The Bee. And Wednesday, he was absent from the district board meeting; a spokeswoman said he was on vacation.
Vang answers at Goshen
California education code and Fresno Unified policy mandate trustees live within the district 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.
For most of his tenure as a board member, Vang has owned homes in that area, first on Ashlan Avenue and then at 3334 E. Garland Ave., which he bought in August 2004.
But not long after Vang bought the Garland house, he also bought the house on Goshen Avenue, in Clovis Unified, and that is currently the only property he owns in Fresno County, according to property records.
Vang and his wife, Chia Me Vang, bought the Goshen house for about $400,000 in 2005, according to the deed of trust, which says the home was to be the couple’s principal residence.
Two neighbors of the Goshen Avenue house told Bee reporters that Vang lives there. Both neighbors declined to be identified.
One said Vang has lived there for several years with his wife and daughter. He’s there almost every day and often gets home late at night, probably as a result of his job as school board president, the neighbor said.
Vang himself answered the door at 2103 E. Goshen Ave. Friday, but immediately said he didn’t live there. He said he was visiting his mother and brother, and that he lived at 3943 E. Fountain Way address. That house is owned by Boua Xiong Lee and Kia Vang, according to property records.
Later, at the Fountain Way house, he said he had lived there 10 years.
Wednesday evening, just as the board was getting ready to begin its regular meeting, the district released a statement regarding Vang’s voter registration: “The District has spoken with the Fresno County Board of Elections and they have stated emphatically that they have some questions about their records and that they will take a day or two investigating what looks like a potential clerical error.”
This week, county elections chief Brandi Orth and other county election officials discussed Vang’s voter registration record, particularly as it pertains to the Goshen Avenue residence, which was listed on voting rolls from December 2007 to April 2010.
It’s one of four addresses that Vang has been registered at since he was elected to the school board in November 2002. The other three addresses are within his Fresno Unified trustee area.
Elections officials said they have no record of Vang taking the initiative to change his voter registration address to the Goshen Avenue residence.
County records show that Vang’s voter registration number at the Goshen address was the same as his voter registration number at a Garland Avenue address that he used from January 2004 to December 2007 and again from October 2009 to August 2011.
If Vang had initiated the change of address to Goshen, officials said, there would have been a new voter registration number.
County election officials said staff will change a voter’s registration address based on information from another government agency, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Post Office.
Officials said their computer records as of Wednesday evening showed that Vang’s address was changed to the Goshen residence based on “agency” information. Officials said they didn’t immediately know which agency.
Voting records don’t say whether a person actually lived at the address used for voter registration. And during the 28 months that his voter registration address was on Goshen Avenue, Vang never cast a ballot at a polling booth. He was mailed an absentee ballot in the November 2008 general election but did not return it. He was sent an absentee ballot in the June 2008 primary and mailed it.
But in the February 2008 presidential primary, Vang voted in a way that raises an essential question: Did he ever take a proactive effort to claim the Goshen address as his legal voter registration address?
In that Presidential Primary, Vang cast a provisional ballot. According to county records, it was counted as a legitimate vote.
A provisional ballot is an emergency ballot on Election Day that ensures a mix-up doesn’t prevent someone from voting.
For example, a voter may go to the wrong precinct. Poll workers wouldn’t have that person’s name on their list of eligible voters.
That person then fills out a provisional ballot. Election officials later review the person’s voter registration data and, if the person is a legal voter, the provisional ballot counts.
Vang in February 2008 was registered to vote in Precinct 355. The Goshen Avenue residence is in this precinct. However, Vang cast a provisional ballot in Precinct 135. Election officials on Wednesday said they didn’t know that precinct’s location.
Election officials said a person casting a provisional ballot must identify his or her residence to poll workers. This address is written on the envelope that safeguards the provisional ballot.
Officials said Elections Department staff will later compare the address on the envelope with the address on the voter’s official registration. If the addresses are different, elections officials said, staff will change the official registration’s address to match the address on the provisional ballot’s envelope.
Vang’s official voter registration address before and after he cast the provisional ballot in February 2008 was at the Goshen Avenue residence, according to county records.
Elections officials said they don’t keep provisional ballot envelopes from as far back as 2008.
Orth, who never raised concerns about her office’s work during interviews with The Bee on Wednesday, issued a one-sentence response to FUSD’s statement: “We need time to do some research and check our source documents to verify the history on registration and voting of Dr. Vang.”
State would investigate
Powell of the Fresno County Office of Education said it would likely be up to the state Attorney General’s Office or the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate allegations of a board trustee living outside his district.
If state authorities determined Vang has lived outside the school district while in office, his votes on the board could be challenged. Without Vang’s vote, the board majority would likely have lost some key decisions. On the split board, decisions often come down to a 4-3 vote.
Powell said residency disputes don’t generally result in revisiting past votes, but “an argument could be made for going back.”
He said trustees who don’t follow rules such as residency requirements set a bad example for students and adults in the district.
“I wish I had authority to do something because I would,” he said.
Fresno Unified School District timeline
The Fresno Unified School District released a statement Tuesday that included a timeline charting what it says is Trustee Tony Vang’s residency since he was elected in 2002.
2002: Vang’s residential address is 656 E. Ashlan Ave.
2004: Vang’s residential address is 3334 E. Garland Ave.
April 21, 2011: Vang relocates to 3943 E. Fountain Way (the district says a change of address with DMV confirms new address).
April 26, 2011: Vang loses the 3334 E. Garland home to foreclosure.
Aug. 9, 2011: The 3334 E. Garland home is sold by “Bank” to a new owner.
May 21, 2012: Vang votes in current presidential primary election based on home at 3943 E. Fountain Way.
Public record timeline
A timeline of events taken from court, property and election records for Fresno Unified School Board Member Tony Vang.
June 7, 1988: Tony Vang is registered to vote at 656 E. Ashlan Ave. He votes in 23 elections listing that address.
Aug. 24, 2004: Vang buys a house at 3334 E. Garland Ave.
Sept. 24, 2004: Vang is registered to vote at 3334 E. Garland Ave. He votes in four elections listing that address.
April 19, 2005: Vang and his wife, Chia Me Vang, buy a house at 2103 E. Goshen Ave. The deed of trust lists the Vangs as joint tenants.
Dec. 28, 2007: Vang is registered to vote at 2103 E. Goshen Ave. He votes in two elections listing that address. In a third election, he is sent an absentee ballot but does not return it.
April 27, 2010: Vang is registered to vote at 3334 E. Garland Ave. He votes in one election listing that address.
April 26, 2011: Vang loses the house at 3334 E. Garland Ave. to foreclosure.
Aug. 2, 2011: Vang is registered to vote at 3943 E. Fountain Way.
April 21, 2012:Vang signs an official court document upon completion of traffic school listing 2103 E. Goshen Ave. as his address.
By Heather Somerville and George Hostetter