WEST –– The woman in charge of the charity steering millions of dollars in private donations to victims of the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion will resign.
The West, TX Foundation’s board of directors announced Thursday that Karen Bernsen is vacating her post as head of The Long Term Recovery Center when a successor is appointed or by Jan. 30, the group said in a release.
“The Board has already begun searching for the individual who will fill that position and take West’s recovery to the next level. Mrs. Bernsen will continue helping with the recovery effort in a volunteer capacity when necessary,” the announcement reads.
The West Fertilizer Plant exploded on April 17, killing 15 people and causing about $100 million in damages.
Bernsen issued the below statement after announcing her impending resignation:
"After praying about this for months, the decision was reached several weeks ago to resign. The timing was held in abeyance until the team was in place to support the continuing recovery efforts of the residents of West. This has been the most challenging, yet rewarding work I have ever done, and it's been an honor to serve my community in this capacity. As you will note in the press release, there have been so many positive achievements made by our partners and team members at the West LTRC, and I knew the time was right to return my focus to my husband and our four young children."
Bernsen penned a controversial column in the Thanksgiving week edition of The West News, calling some of those impacted by the blast “ungrateful.”
“Their attitudes are jeopardizing their recovery,” she wrote.
Her words incensed some residents, a few of whom called for her to be stripped of her position. Bernsen declined an interview with News 8 after the column but said in an email that she “received many more positive reactions about my article than negative.”
The Long Term Recovery Center has doled out $400,000 of the $3.6 million in total donations. A 15-person committee was established to determine which of the more than 500 applicants would get money, how much of it and when. That committee, Bernsen said, meets once a week.
She added that the center hired three additional caseworkers to expedite the claims. Mayor Tommy Muska and other city leaders have defended the distribution process, saying it took months for the center to receive a proper 501(c)(3) designation, which formally makes the group a tax-exempt nonprofit.
“When you’re working through it, it seems slow, but step back and say, ‘We’ve only been doing this seven months,’” Bernsen said then.
Bernsen said a statement is forthcoming. The resignation announcement does not list a specific reason for her departure.
In addition to Bernsen, Board Secretary Tiffany Bolton also announced her resignation. Dianne Friend will fill that position.