Guest Commentary: Yolo Food Bank Chairperson Censured and Admonished, but Board Cover-Up Continues

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Meeting notes regarding independent investigation into YFB Board misconduct.

by Zane Hatfield

The Yolo Food Bank (YFB) Board brazenly misled the community last month when it denied any knowledge of investigations of staff complaints against the YFB Board. Although disheartening, I was not surprised to read in the July 8, 2022, Sacramento Business Journal article that the YFB Board, through its spokesman, Gene Endicott, said that it “has no knowledge directly of any investigations that have been done related to complaints against it.” Endicott’s statement is patently false and easily refuted by numerous documents. He and the YFB Board cannot be trusted.

There is ample evidence showing the YFB Board was well aware of formal complaints against individual YFB Board members, that those complaints were being investigated, and that the independent law firm investigating those complaints, Bowman & Associates, made recommendations to the YFB Board—including censuring and admonishing Chairperson Tom Muller for his abusive behavior toward staff at a board meeting in clear violation of YFB policies (see notes from a meeting about the investigation shown in the main image above).

Pursuant to standard YFB protocol for HR complaints, YFB human resources manager, Angela Hofstrand, notified the entire YFB Board on May 5, 2022, that an investigation had been initiated.

Excerpt from May 2, 2022, Food Bank memo notifying YFB Board of a formal investigation

It’s also worth noting that YFB chairperson Tom Muller was interviewed by Bowman & Associates during the investigation, as was YFB Board member Donald Hartman.

On May 24, 2022, the YFB Executive Team (excluding Executive Director Michael Bisch) sent the entire YFB Board a letter reminding the Board that there were ongoing independent investigations into Board misconduct by legal counsel and that the YFB Board had been advised by counsel to refrain from taking any action against Food Bank staff until the investigations were complete.

Excerpt from May 24, 2022, letter from the Yolo Food Bank Executive Team to the YFB Board

The May 24 Executive Team letter also warned that any such action against YFB staff could be seen as retaliatory.

Excerpt from May 24, 2022, letter from the Yolo Food Bank Executive Team to the YFB Board

The May 24 letter also officially informed the YFB Board that they were in violation of the YFB bylaws and that there were now only four valid board members remaining (six board members had resigned in the previous four days). This was an alarming circumstance because we now had an insufficient number of board members to meet quorum requirements. The YFB Board was now unable to conduct any official business other than electing replacement board members. The Executive Team indicated that it would not accept any direction from the YFB Board until these matters had been fully investigated.

Excerpt from May 24, 2022, letter from the Yolo Food Bank Executive Team to the YFB Board

A number of items appeared on the agenda for the YFB annual meeting scheduled for May 25, 2022, including an election for replacement board members so the Food Bank could continue to operate legally.  Item #6 of the agenda states that the YFB Board was to meet in a closed session for a “Discussion of (Action on) Investigation of Findings and Recommendations.” As Nick Schroeder described in an earlier Vanguard piece, the YFB Board members shouted down an Executive Team member and signed off the Zoom meeting without meeting its fiduciary duty of holding an annual election and without properly replacing the board members who had abruptly resigned just days earlier.

Excerpt from May 25, 2022, Yolo Food Bank annual meeting agenda

Despite Bowman & Associates recommendation that the YFB Board refrain from taking any action against staff until Bowman had completed its investigations of the numerous  complaints of YFB Board misconduct, the YFB Board met in secret the evening of May 30, 2022 and voted to (1) re-elect termed out members Liz Schmitz and Matt Mariani to the Board, (2) terminate Executive Director Michael Bisch, (3) terminate Bowman & Associates (seemingly to quash the numerous independent investigations into Board misconduct), and (4) appoint now former Chairperson Tom Muller—whom Bowman & Associates had previously recommended be censured and admonished—to be the board’s “liaison” for firing Executive Director Michael Bisch on May 31.

The morning of May 31, Mr. Muller unexpectedly arrived at the Yolo Food Bank offices and began haranguing staff. A former colleague said that she inquired as to the appropriateness of his being there, given the harassment and other complaints against him, and he falsely stated something to the effect of, “What are you talking about? Those are all closed and done.” He then aggressively urged the Executive Team members who were present that morning to forward an email from the YFB Board to staff announcing that Michael had been terminated and that they needed to execute his termination. Mr. Muller’s behavior was so unsettling to my former colleague that she left the Food Bank offices in tears and submitted a letter two days later resigning in protest of the YFB Board’s actions.

Over the past four years, under Michael Bisch’s leadership, Food Bank staff worked tirelessly to grow trust with the community. It is only because of this trust that we were able to transform the Food Bank and provide such a needed service to so many during the darkest days of the pandemic. In less than two months, this YFB Board has eviscerated the community’s trust in the Food Bank.  And for what? To appease the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. They traded the community’s trust, the Food Bank’s reputation, and the trust of the tens of thousands of food-insecure residents in Yolo County, to curry favor with five cynical and petty men.

Other than the entire YFB Board resigning, the only way for Yolo Food Bank to regain the community’s trust is for an independent third party to conduct a transparent investigation and report its findings to the community.

Zane Hatfield is the former Director of Programs for Yolo Food Bank.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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14 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Yolo Food Bank Chairperson Censured and Admonished, but Board Cover-Up Continues”

  1. Ron Glick

    “In less than two months, this YFB Board has eviscerated the community’s trust in the Food Bank.  And for what? To appease the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.”

    Can someone explain this part of the story? What happened with the Board of Supervisors that triggered this?

    1. David Greenwald

      As I understand it, and I’m still waiting for some docs. There was a dispute over SB 1383 (food waste recovery). The county allocated $761K to the Food Bank to achieve the capacity and improvements for the food recovery. The County sent a letter to the YFB Board of Directors on March 18 laying out the county’s position. Bisch and the Food Bank staff believed that the county was in non-compliance with the state’s food recovery funding mandates. He has charged that this noncompliance was deliberate.

      I am working on a story, but still need some docs from the county to understand their position. And the other problem is that the Food Bank Board really is not talking.

    2. Ron Oertel

      Bisch and the Food Bank staff believed that the county was in non-compliance with the state’s food recovery funding mandates. He has charged that this noncompliance was deliberate.

      That’s a pretty serious allegation against the county.  What motive would they have for doing so?

      What motive would the board have for firing Bisch?

      Who decided to hire Bowman and Associates, and how/why did that come-about? Who filed the complaint, and is that standard operating procedure when such a complaint is filed? And since the board terminated that contract, does that mean we’re supposed to conclude anything at all, regarding that complaint?

      Regarding the lack of comment (at this point), that’s standard procedure when someone’s fired.

      Seems to me that the Vanguard had already picked a “side”, well-before any information came out, and is amplified by this article.  And that there’s some kind of outreach to the Vanguard and other media – essentially a “campaign” at this point.

      Let’s look at this one example, of the Vanguard’s article:

      The morning of May 31, Mr. Muller unexpectedly arrived at the Yolo Food Bank offices and began haranguing staff.

      Are we supposed to take this as undisputed fact? No source, etc.?

      1. Ron Oertel

        Regarding the “Vanguard’s article”, I understand that this was written by a guest author.  But again, it appears to be part of an ongoing campaign – in which the Vanguard is a conduit.

  2. Ron Oertel

    And for what? To appease the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. They traded the community’s trust, the Food Bank’s reputation, and the trust of the tens of thousands of food-insecure residents in Yolo County, to curry favor with five cynical and petty men.

    Far be it for me to defend every decision by the board of supervisors (on an individual or “group” level), but this type of claim (and the way in which it is written) causes me to react in an opposite manner from what was apparently intended by the author.

  3. Richard_McCann

    I saw the YFB’s proposal to the County and I had serious questions about (1) whether the YFB was the appropriate entity to assess whether the County was in compliance with SB 1383 and (2) whether the proposal to heavily centralize food collection and distribution would create substantial offsetting CO2 emissions. The report done by the YFB’s consultant focused solely on methane emissions from organics and not the truck emissions. Bisch made a proposal to the Natural Resources Commission on the plan and I had questions about this issue that were not answered. Interpreting questions about a large plan that had gaps in analysis as somehow being underhanded raises questions about how YFB leadership was viewing its role as a non profit versus the County’s governing entity.

    Ron, this is exactly the kind of issue you should be commenting on. I generally agree with your observations about the tone. I would like to see more real investigation into this issue rather than articles by former YFB staff and their allies. They may have a strong case, but I can’t judge it from how it’s been presented so far, and what I know about particular issues that have been raised.

    One point–who made the complaint the opened the investigation will be protected anonymously unless they step forward. Even the accused isn’t supposed to know until an appropriate moment. That’s standard practice.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Three questions, Richard…

      What is more important… YFB mission, or issues of staff/board management?  I see they could be intertwined

      Do you support the mission of the YFB, or should it fold? (due to the “issues” that are still (no pun intended) vague)…

      Have you ever financially, or as a volunteer, supported a food bank?

      There are some who have posted, who seem more focused on the first question, than the other two…

      I don’t “roll that way” (focusing on the first question)…

       

    2. Ron Oertel

      Ron, this is exactly the kind of issue you should be commenting on.

      You’re not in a position to make such decisions.

      I generally agree with your observations about the tone.

      Yeah – it’s not helping anything – including the Food Bank itself.

       

       

       

    3. Andrew Newman

      Richard McCann Please stop saying that the consultants were hired by the Food Bank.  You are completely wrong.  The consultants were hired by the Counties and Cites of Yolo County.

      Can you provide an proof that the consultant was hired by the Food Bank?

      To your comment about who made the complaint?  Zane made the complaint and he is coming forward.  He came forward in June and got fired for doing so.

      Per executve staff at the food bank, No proposal was ever provided.  You are wrong about this as well.

      What does the emission issues even have to do  with the board actions and the other issues at hand.

      As for your call for an investigation into this mess, I am completely behind that.

       

      1. Bill Marshall

        Andrew…

        Can you provide an (sic) proof that the consultant was hired by the Food Bank?

        Can you provide any proof that the consultant was not?  Fair is fair…

        Again, I opine, the mission of the YFB is the important issue… we support it to the tune of 4 digits/year (no ‘floating’ decimal points).  The main questions are whether the mission is valid, and is YFB fulfilling that mission…

        The rest is ephemera, lessons learned, how to move forward… so I opine…

        We have supported YFB, its mission, and look to hear how to move forward… looking in the rear view mirror all the time means a crash is imminent… if one is moving forward…

        1. Andrew Newman

          Bill

          Absolutely,  I will find the report.  I believe it says right in it who comissioned it.

          I also absolutely support the mission of the foodbank and the much needed role they play in our community.  I also belive that those employees with their “boots on the ground” everyday do their very best to fufill (and beyod) the mission of the foodbank and the needs of our community.

          That is why they deserve a board who supports them and does not undermine them.

          This is all about the inappropriate actions of the board including harassing employees and acting outside of the Yolo Food Bank By-laws.

        2. Andrew Newman

          Here is the proof, from the introduction page of the report.  The detailed report can be found on the Yolo County web site at 
          https://www.yolocounty.org/home/showpublisheddocument/72125/637767939869070000

          “Total Compliance Management (TCM) and Abound Food Care (Abound) (together “the Team”) were contracted by Yolo County, the City of Winters, and City of Woodland to assess the regional capacity of edible food recovery to meet the requirements of SB 1383.”

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