(KTXL) — On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited the Yolo Food Bank in West Sacramento to announce a new program that’ll help bring fresh food from small California farms.

His visit followed weeks of questions about the food bank’s leadership, including the recent appointment of an interim executive director. 

The food bank serves 25,000 people each month and distributes to food pantries, senior meal programs and colleges. 

Despite its outreach, the nonprofit recently made headlines for the firing of its previous executive director, the resignations of staff members and an investigation of board members by a law firm. 

The termination of Michael Bisch in May created concern about the food bank’s ability to keep its promises. 

Bisch was shocked when he received that text on May 31, ending his behind-the-scenes battle for control of the food bank. 

“I received a text message announcing that I’ve been fired,” Bisch said.

Under his leadership, Bisch and the nonprofit won numerous awards, including:

  • Executive director of the year.
  • Business of the year.
  • Non-profit of the year 
  • Civic leadership for the community award
  • Biggest big day of giving fundraising totals in business history    

That kind of success usually leads to job security, but board members of the food bank had tried to fire him during a meeting weeks before his dismissal. 

The board started reading a termination letter off their phones, but staff members who supported Bisch disagreed with critiques of his performance, convincing board members to back off.

Then came that fateful text message to Bisch.

The board also terminated the services of a law firm hired to investigate allegations against them. Bisch told FOX40 the firing of the law firm was “outrageous.” 

“I’m at a complete loss for words and this complete meltdown in board governance when it comes to Yolo Food Bank, but what’s super clear is that all of this is retaliatory,” Bisch continued. 

The firing of Bisch and Yolo Food Bank’s former program director Zane Hatfield came just after three members of his executive team filed letters of no-confidence against board directors, who alleged mismanagement, ethical lapses and harassment. 

Harassment is something some felt was evident in the language and tone taken by Board Chair Tom Muller during the directors’ April meeting.

Of the investigations of board behavior requested by employees, law firm Bowman and Associates had only completed one.

They found complaints against Muller to be valid. 

“It’s unbelievable and I’m not sure what the path forward is,” Bisch said.  

What Bisch is sure about is the growing number of families in need and the donors who can help them. He said they should take a close look at the actions of the Yolo Food Bank’s board.

He claims the board has too few board members to make a quorum, meaning they had no ability to fire him without enough people to make decisions or take action. 

Gene Endicott was brought in by the food bank to handle questions about what happened with Bisch and Zane. 

Board members declined to speak to FOX40 and instead directed us to Endicott. 

“So the board members who I had termed off were in fact removed from the board,” Endicott said. “So, they were not involved in the decision related to the executive director position. They didn’t resign. It was discovered that their terms had ended.” 

When asked if there weren’t enough board members to constitute a quorum and more elections were delayed, Endicott said, “That is not true. There’s a sufficient number of directors under the organization’s bylaws to take the action that it did.” 

Whatever the makeup of the board was at the time of Bisch’s firing, Endicott didn’t share why the board dismissed him. 

“This is a personnel matter and because of that, we cannot talk of the specifics related to the decision the board made,” Endicott said.

Something Endicott wanted to stress was support for the 25,000 people who turn to the Yolo Food Bank for help each month.

“Nothing has changed. The work is continuing, the programs are continuing,” Endicott said. “The commitment is the strongest it has ever been to make sure that the organization’s serving as many people as it can.”

But Bisch is skeptical.

“Bottom line, none of this is helping more people being fed higher quality food and that’s supposed to be the name of the game,” Bisch said.