CEO leaves Meals on Wheels East Texas; new leadership planned

Kari Kietzer, left, CEO of Meals on Wheels East Texas, gives an update to the board of directors on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Tyler. Board chairman John Genung said in an email Wednesday that Kietzer is no longer with Meals on Wheels East Texas. (Erin Mansfield/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

TYLER — The chairman of the board of directors for Meals on Wheels East Texas announced Wednesday that the CEO is no longer in her position.

“Kari Kietzer is no longer with the organization,” Chairman John Genung said in an email. “We wish her well. We are transitioning to new leadership and will have an announcement soon.”

The transition comes after months of turmoil within the organization and complaints from current and former employees, volunteers and donors about the organization’s management.

An email sent to Kietzer’s work email was not returned Wednesday morning. Her picture and bio were not listed on the organization’s website Wednesday night.

Kietzer, who has a background in national security, joined the organization in July and highlighted her international experience. She succeeded former executive director Mike Powell, who is suing the organization over claims of discrimination under the Family Medical Leave Act.

The organization provides warm meals to seniors in six East Texas counties: Gregg, Smith, Henderson, Upshur, Van Zandt and Wood. It receives a combination of funding from donors and government sources, including the East Texas Council of Governments-Area Agency on Aging and the Texas Department of Agriculture.

In April, the Area Agency on Aging told the organization it was in danger of losing its funding because Kietzer had been serving in the dual role of chairman of the board and chief executive officer. The agency contract prohibited staff members from serving on the board, saying it was a conflict of interest.

Soon after, board member Aubrey Sharpe, who had received the letter as a board member, left, saying he would not have the time to help the organization through the issue. Genung, a local attorney, then became chairman of the board.

Two potential clients had said in an interview in April that they had been trying to get meals but could not get their calls returned. Kietzer then said the organization had a waiting list of 60 people. She said that was smaller than many similar organizations in Texas.

Additionally, a top administrator, Amber Johnson, resigned publicly in an email to media organizations, and public records showed her former supervisor asked the police to go to her house shortly after the resignation. Johnson disputed the reason for the police call.

Later that month, former employees raised concerns at a board of directors meeting. At the time, a spokeswoman said the board of directors was investigating but did not give additional details. It is not clear what the status of that investigation is.

In May, one of the organization’s many community partners, Longview Community Ministries, announced it would stop delivering meals for Meals on Wheels East Texas, ending a nearly two-decade practice.

Instead, starting May 20, the Longview organization decided to partner with Newgate Mission to deliver the meals to existing clients. They renamed the new partnership “Meals with Love.”

Aside from Wednesday’s announcement about the change in executive leadership, Genung wrote in a letter May 5 that the organization is seeking new members of the board of directors, with an eye toward growing from 14 to 20.