David Binkle, the embattled food services director for LA Unifed, has resigned from the job he held through last December before he was removed under a cloud of controversy.
Binkle had become a celebrity in the food world the last few years after appearing on talk shows and receiving praise from First Lady Michele Obama for promoting healthier food choices for students.
But he fell under intense scrutiny after being removed from his post last year as the district launched an investigation into possible mismanagement of his division and ethical breaches.
An internal audit released in July by the district’s Office of the Inspector General concluded that Binkle had violated ethical codes by asking a food contractor to pay for his airfare and hotel accommodations. It also found that the total value of the gifts was $8,831, far above the allowed limit of $100 per year. Binkle also failed to properly report the gifts and to report his ownership of a food consulting business, the audit found.
Binkle had become so well known and celebrated the last few years that he was referred to as the district’s “food guru” or “food czar” for guiding LA Unified toward healthier food options, an effort that began in 2011 and continued last year with the the school board’s passing of two “good food” resolutions.
Binkle had continued to collect his $152,000 annual salary since his removal under the district’s so-called “teacher jail” system of sending employees home or to administrative offices with pay while investigations proceeded.
Binkle had previously denied any wrongdoing.
“I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide since my actions were approved and encouraged from senior district officials, general counsel or the ethics office,” he wrote in an email to CBS Los Angeles in February. “I am confident the truth and facts will show the allegations are unsubstantiated.”
The resignation took effect on July 31, and the Food Services Division is now under the interim co-direction of Laura Benavidez and Timikel Sharpe. Binkle began working for the district in 2008 and was promoted to the director position in 2012.
The district said it has made changes to correct the problems found in the audit.
“The District has tightened financial controls and revamped the procurement process as a result of the audit. It also halted a vendor-funded marketing program that was harshly criticized in the audit,” LA Unified said in a statement that announced Binkle’s retirement.