YOLO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — FOX40 News is the first to learn of a lawsuit being filed by Michael Bisch, the recently fired executive director of the Yolo Bank Food, against the organization he once led.

The civil action follows allegations that include misconduct by board members, a law firm being fired while investigating those board members, and changes in service to agencies that rely on the nonprofit. It’s all causing concern for the 25,000 people the food bank helps each month.

“It’s all about increasing the amount of food that we have and coming up with more dynamic ways of reaching the community for those resources,” said Karen Baker, the current Yolo Food Bank Executive Director.

Those were the recent words from 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.

He was first on May 31st via text message.

It’s now been two and half months since Bisch, one of the organization’s most-lauded leaders ever,  was suddenly fired in what he claims was a procedurally improper and retaliatory move.

“I can no longer be muzzled because I’m no longer an employee of Yolo Food Bank,” he said.

One of the claims Bisch made in FOX40’s first report on his firing was that board members who had termed out or resigned as staff complaints against them were investigated still participated in voting him out. 

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.

It’s a question FOX40 put to the outside spokesman the food bank hired to address the leadership change.

The answer?

“No, that is not true. There were…there was…there’s a sufficient number of directors under the organization’s bylaws to take the action that it did,” Gene Endicott said.

FOX40 has since obtained an email sent to candidates up for election to the board during that time.

It was sent to prospective food bank board candidates who were in a Zoom election meeting in May. It apologizes to them for the abrupt end to the session and them being “caught up” in a situation with “challenges with significant legal implications.”

“And so I was super, super surprised when we showed up for that Wednesday annual meeting and the election too. And we had — I want to say 12 board candidates sitting there in the Zoom meeting and two of the board members began shouting down my marketing communications director as she was reading off a prepared comment and abruptly canceled the election,” Bisch recalled.

Bisch said some board members somehow rescinded their resignations to support the text message that a few days later served as his official firing.

Though hired to speak for the board about this situation, Endicott was unable to provide any insight about one of the specific points of tension between Bisch and the board. For Bisch…one point he says is obvious is his push to get cities throughout Yolo County and the county itself to comply with Senate Bill 1383 – the new state law about food disposal.

Bisch advocated a plan developed by a consulting firm the food bank hired when he was at the helm.

After six years of lead time, cities and counties were supposed to be in line with this edible food recovery law as of Jan. 1 of this year. It’s intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing what ends up in landfills and seeks to capture what instead might become food waste.

The law works on the principle that shoppers like to see fully stocked shelves all the time. To that end, there’s 30 to 40% too much food on hand at stores and thus throughout the supply line.  

“So, every day 30 to 40% of the excess food is being thrown away.  It’s typically transported to the landfill and all of us are paying for it,” Bisch explained.

One goal of SB 1383 is to create a system – perhaps through warehousing, trucking, and distribution – that rescues more food from a trip to a landfill and instead sends it to families in need. That’s something that takes buy-in, money, and planning — all things Bisch claims he’s received pushback on from multiple cities and the county.

Without being able to tap into an extra stream of food created by SB 1383, Bisch became concerned.

He was facing declining food donations, demand that tripled during the height of the pandemic and has remained and then rose another 55%  just this year

Given all that, Bisch and his executive team warned some community partners they may not be able to do as much for as many as they had in the past –  like with holiday turkey giveaways.

That idea seemed to raise the ire of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, according to Food Bank board members. Supervisors sent a letter to the food bank board, pointing out conflicts with how Bisch and his team were trying to direct certain donations.

“Take all steps necessary to ensure that Yolo Food Bank leadership is not responsible and if you determine otherwise… do whatever is needed to immediately end this situation,” the letter says.

Despite the tone of the letter, supervisors do not have a role in running Yolo Food Bank.

“They have no pull over us. No hold over us. We’re not beholden to them. And so why my board, my former board was agreeing to be their puppets is just…particularly when it’s undermining our mission and resulting in fewer people being fed…. I mean it’s just outrageous,” Bisch said.

That also seemed to be the sentiment expressed by the food bank’s former director of accounting in her resignation letter.

Katie Schroder wrote to the board on June 2 citing their “inexplicably poor decision to fire Michael” as one that she fears will “cause harm to the people we work so hard to serve.”

“From my perspective, it seems that the decision was rooted more in satisfying the egos of some or all of the Board members than to ensure YFB continues to increase food security in our community,” her letter continued.

Schroeder had planned to make her resignation effective June 17 but was dismissed immediately after submitting her letter to the board.

The board’s outside spokesperson refused to say if disagreement over the new food disposal law or pressure from county supervisors might have been a reason for the change in food bank leadership.

“I’m not saying it hasn’t been discussed. It’s not something I’m prepared to talk about with you,” Endicott said.

The Yolo Food Bank literally feeds many of the nonprofits around Yolo County, sending them food they then distribute on their own directly or make into meals that are given to those in need.

Leaders of some of those groups said they haven’t been able to count on the food bank the same way since Bisch’s firing.

Meals on Wheels Yolo County is one of them. That agency’s been waiting for the start of a planned bulk food purchase arrangement that could really help them deal with prices spiking right now due to inflation.

Their current director took the helm there seven months ago after a career at the food bank.

Answers about why the planned food purchases haven’t started haven’t come.

“We’ve had some conversations recently to communicate how important is it for us to have such a program. In order to do what we’re able to do to fight food insecurity amongst seniors in the community. Don’t really have a date yet for when we can expect that to occur,” Joy Cohan said. “We are  — were hoping to participate in the emergency food assistance program through Yolo Food Bank which is a federal program and that has not yet come to fruition as we had hoped it would at the beginning of the summer.”

Since word of Bisch’s firing spread, raising questions, new food bank leadership has maintained there has been no change to service levels.

Yolo County has sent the Food Bank more than $750,000 this year to help with the implementation of SB 1383.

At this time, it’s unclear how that money is being spent. 

FOX40 News has reached out to the board members named in the lawsuit and new food bank leadership for comment about the suit and is waiting for any response.