YOLO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — FOX40 News is the first to learn of a lawsuit filed by Michael Bisch, the recently fired executive director of Yolo Bank Food, against the organization he once led.
The civil action follows allegations of misconduct by board members, the firing of a law firm while investigating those board members, and changes in agency services that depend on the nonprofit organization. All of this worries the 25,000 people the food bank helps each month.
“It’s about increasing the amount of food we have and finding more dynamic ways to reach the community for those resources,” said Karen Baker, the current CEO of Yolo Food Bank.
These are the recent words of Baker, the new director of the Yolo Food Bank, to a community still confused about what happened with the agency’s last director, Michael Bisch.
“Something is seriously off the rails there,” Bisch said.
It was the first on May 31 by SMS.
It has now been two and a half months since Bisch, one of the organization‘s most beloved leaders, was suddenly fired in what he claims was a retaliatory and procedurally improper move.
“I can no longer be muzzled because I am no longer an employee of Yolo Food Bank,” he said.
One of Bisch’s claims in FOX40’s first report on his firing was that board members who resigned or resigned while staff complaints against them were being investigated were still participating in the vote against him.
He also claims that a quorum was not established at the time, meaning there were too few board members to conduct official business and make personnel decisions.
That’s a question FOX40 posed to the outside spokesperson the food bank hired to deal with the leadership change.
” No that’s not true. There were…there were…there are a sufficient number of directors under the bylaws of the organization to take the action it has taken,” Gene Endicott said.
FOX40 has since obtained an email sent to candidates seeking election to the board during this time.
It was sent to potential candidates for the food bank board who were attending a Zoom election meeting in May. He apologizes to them for the abrupt end of the session and their “caught up” in a situation with “challenges with significant legal implications”.
“And so I was super, super surprised when we showed up for this annual meeting on Wednesday and the election as well. And we had – I mean 12 board nominees sitting there in the Zoom meeting and two board members started yelling at my director of marketing communications as she read a prepared commentary and abruptly canceled the election,” Bisch recalled.
Bisch said some board members somehow rescinded their resignations in support of the text message that days later served as his official dismissal.
While engaged to speak on behalf of the board about this situation, Endicott was unable to provide insight into any of the specific points of tension between Bisch and the board. For Bisch…one point he says is obvious is his desire to bring the towns of Yolo County and the county itself into compliance with Senate Bill 1383 – the new state law on disposal of food.
Bisch advocated a plan developed by a consulting firm the food bank hired when he was at the helm.
After a six-year delay, cities and counties were supposed to comply with this edible food salvage law starting Jan. 1 this year. It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing what ends up in landfills and seeks to capture what could instead become food waste.
The law works on the principle that shoppers like to see well-stocked shelves all the time. For this, there is 30 to 40% too much food in stores and therefore throughout the supply chain.
“So every day 30-40% of excess food is thrown away. It usually goes to landfill and we all pay the price,” Bisch explained.
One of the goals of SB 1383 is to create a system — perhaps through warehousing, trucking, and distribution — that saves more food from a trip to a landfill and instead sends it to families in the need. It’s something that takes buy-in, money and planning — all of which Bisch claims has been pushed back by multiple cities and the county.
Without being able to tap into an additional flow of food created by SB 1383, Bisch grew concerned.
He was facing a drop in food donations, a demand that tripled at the height of the pandemic and remained then rose again by 55% this year alone
Given all this, Bisch and his management team have warned some community partners that they may not be able to do as much as they have in the past – such as with holiday turkey gifts. .
The idea appeared to anger the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, according to food bank board members. Supervisors sent a letter to the food bank’s board, highlighting conflicts with how Bisch and his team were trying to direct some donations.
“Take all necessary steps to ensure that the management of Yolo Food Bank is not responsible and if you decide otherwise … do whatever is necessary to bring this situation to an immediate end,” the letter reads.
Despite the tone of the letter, supervisors play no role in the management of Yolo Food Bank.
“They have no hold on us. No hold on us. We’re not beholden to them. And so why would my board, my former board agree to be their puppets, it’s just… in especially when it undermines our mission and fewer people are fed…I mean, it’s just outrageous,” Bisch said.
That also seemed to be the sentiment expressed by the former food bank accounting manager in her resignation letter.
Katie Schroder wrote to the board on June 2, citing their “inexplicably bad decision to fire Michael” as one that she said will “harm the people we work so hard for.”
“From my perspective, it appears the decision was more to satisfy the egos of some or all of the board members than to ensure that YFB continues to increase food security in our community,” continues his letter.
Schroeder had planned to step down on June 17, but was fired immediately after submitting her letter to the board.
The council’s outside spokesman declined to say whether disagreement over the new food disposal law or pressure from county supervisors might have been a reason for the food bank’s change in leadership.
“I’m not saying it wasn’t discussed. It’s not something I’m willing to talk about with you,” Endicott said.
The Yolo Food Bank literally feeds many nonprofit organizations in Yolo County, sending them food which they then distribute directly or turn into meals that are donated to those in need.
Leaders of some of these groups said they could not rely on the food bank in the same way since Bisch’s firing.
Yolo County Meals on Wheels is one of them. This agency is waiting for the start of a bulk food purchase agreement which could really help it cope with the surge in prices at the moment due to inflation.
Their current manager took over seven months ago after a career at the food bank.
Answers about why the planned food purchases did not start did not come.
“We have had conversations recently to communicate how important it is for us to have such a program. To do what we can do to address food insecurity among seniors in the community. I don’t really have a date yet when we can expect that to happen,” said Joy Cohan. “We were hoping – were hoping to participate in the emergency food assistance program through the Yolo Food Bank, which is a federal program and hasn’t yet materialized as we had hoped at the start of the summer.”
Since news of Bisch’s dismissal spread, raising questions, the food bank’s new management has maintained there has been no change in service levels.
Yolo County sent the food bank more than $750,000 this year to help implement SB 1383.
At the moment, it is not known how this money is spent.
FOX40 News has reached out to the board members named in the lawsuit and the food bank’s new leadership for comment on the lawsuit and is awaiting a response.
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