Tension rises on Fresno Unified board over Tony Vang residency
The fractured Fresno Unified School board split in two Wednesday night when two trustees walked out on a board meeting after they were prevented from speaking.
Trustees Michelle Asadoorian and Larry Moore were silenced during the early minutes of the meeting while trying to address concerns about board president Tony Vang’s residency issues. Vang, however, spoke over them and continued with the meeting.
Vang himself addressed his residency issue at the start of the meeting, saying he had no intention of stepping down: “I was elected to serve a four-year term. I intend to serve my full term on this board.”
Vang, whose term is up in 2014, said he would remain focused on serving students in the McLane High area he represents.
He then deferred to the district’s legal counsel to quell comments from Asadoorian and Moore. Mary Beth de Goede said trustees must be recognized by the board president to speak.
At one point, Vang silenced Asadoorian and Moore by requesting a moment of silence for the late Rutherford “Bud” Gaston, a longtime FUSD educator.
Shortly after, Asadoorian and Moore walked out. District teacher Summer Gaston-Gehris said outside the meeting that she and her family were outraged that Vang used Mr. Gaston’s memory to stifle the discussion.
Moore said in a later interview he could “not in good conscience” sit through a meeting he called illegitimate because Vang vacated his seat on the board when he registered to vote outside the school district.
Said Asadoorian: “Every vote we cast will be suspect.”
From 2007 to 2010, Vang was registered to vote and did vote from a house in northeast Fresno at 2103 E. Goshen Ave., in the Clovis Unified School District. Vang and his wife, Chia Me Vang, own the home, which is listed on mortgage documents as their primary dwelling. Vang said he takes care of a physically disabled aunt and cousin who live there, and he is renting a house at 3943 E. Fountain Way, inside the McLane area.
California education code and government code mandate trustees live within the district they serve. FUSD policy also requires that trustees reside within the portion of the district they represent.
The scenes outside and inside the boardroom illustrated a polarized community. A crowd outside the boardroom chanted for Vang to step down, and inside, Greg Gadams from the Fresno Teachers Association demanded Vang’s resignation. At Vang’s request, Gadams was escorted out by police when he continued to speak longer than his allotted one minute — the result of a policy Vang recently imposed, down from three minutes. The policy also lets Vang select speakers.
Daren Miller, second vice-chair of the Fresno chapter of the NAACP, also called for Vang’s resignation. But later, John Sims, first vice-chair of the NAACP, supported Vang, as did Johnny Nelum, president emeritus.
Meanwhile, dozens of members of the Hmong community showed up to support Vang, including several speakers who accused Moore and Asadoorian of racism.
One man told Vang to “be strong for his job. That is why we elected you.”
But Mai Summer Vue, president-elect of the Fresno Teachers Association, alleged that members of the Hmong community had been lied to so Vang could recruit them to attend the meeting. Vue said the supporters were a faction of the community; others wanted him to step down.
On Wednesday, about a dozen people who spoke about Vang were split almost evenly between supporters and those who asked for his resignation.
The emotionally charged meeting capped a day in which the trustees, union leaders and teachers took steps to address concerns about Vang’s residency. In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Asadoorian and Moore announced that they have asked state and local agencies to investigate Vang and possible attempts by the school district to cover up the truth about his residency. Requests were sent to the state Attorney General, Fresno County grand jury, District Attorney Elizabeth Egan and the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate.
It’s unclear what, if any, resolution there might be.
The FPPC said this week that it doesn’t have jurisdiction over residency issues. The commission denied a complaint against Vang filed by Jose Luis Barraza, a director of El Concilio de Fresno, a Latino advocacy group in Fresno.
Gadams said the Fresno Teachers Association also has filed complaints with the Fresno County Office of Education and the California Department of Education. However, in earlier interviews, Fresno County Schools Superintendent Larry Powell said that the issue was not under his purview.
The district released a one-sentence statement Wednesday: “Neither the Board nor the Fresno Unified School District have the authority to determine the eligibility of board members to hold public office.”
Some trustees agree that the board should not pursue the issue. Trustee Carol Mills has said that any determination about Vang’s residency eligibility was a matter for the courts.
Trustee Cal Johnson said Wednesday that he doesn’t want to be involved: “If there’s a problem with his residency, someone else should deal with it.”
Asadoorian said that by doing nothing, the trustees “have become accomplices in Mr. Vang’s deceit.”
Through his attorney, Vang said last week that he voted from Goshen Avenue in error during a difficult time in his life. Brian Hildreth, an attorney at Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, a high-profile Sacramento firm, said Vang was dealing with his mother’s illness and subsequent death in 2007. Hildreth said Vang has mail delivered to Goshen Avenue, and has never lived there. As of 2011, he is registered to vote on East Fountain Way.
Vang also signed his name to a traffic school document with Fresno County courts listing the Goshen address, and neighbors said he lives there. A directory for St. Anthony’s school, which his daughter attends, gives the Goshen address and a Clovis-area phone prefix.
The FTA made a formal request outside McLane High on Wednesday for Vang to resign and to pay back his board salary and benefits.
Gadams said the FTA is prepared to move forward with a recall election, with teachers spending the summer gathering signatures to hold new elections for Vang and any trustees who continue supporting him.
Mary Van Vleet, a teacher for 19 years at McLane, said she wanted to see Vang go. She said Vang has been silent on concerns teachers have brought to the board about cuts to programs and teachers, and treatment of student activists.
“He abruptly dismissed us,” Van Vleet said.
Norseman Elementary School teacher Vicky Tamez said she knows of only one time Vang visited her school during his 10 years on the board. She said Vang attended a Parent University graduation at Norseman, days after The Bee published an article about Vang’s residency issues.
Tamez, who teaches kindergarten, said that was the first time a trustee representing the area had visited Norseman during her 19 years at the school.
By Heather Somerville