Woodway city manager placed on administrative leave

Yost Zakhary and Sandra Bickel. (City photo/courtesy photo)
Yost Zakhary and Sandra Bickel. (City photo/courtesy photo)(KWTX)
Published: Mar. 30, 2018 at 12:48 PM CDT
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The Woodway City Council placed City Manager Yost Zakhary on administrative leave Friday and barred him from having any contact with city employees and from entering the police department and city hall pending a public council hearing on April 9.

Finance Director William Klump was named acting city manager Friday.

"The employment investigation has been ongoing," the council said in a press release, "and the process of assembling such notice and evidence for provision to Mr. Zakhary has required additional time due to additional matters to be covered as a result of the investigation."

Zakhary is barred from having "any contact or communication with any city employee other than Assistant (Department of Public Safety) Director Bret Cook or Acting City Manager William Klump," the council said.

He's also barred from becoming "involved in or (transmitting) any radio traffic on the city's radio system" and he may not "respond to any police/fire call for assistance or police/fire incident," the council said.

The unanimous decision to place Zakahry on paid leave came after a 90-minute closed-door meeting to consider the fate of the longtime city official, who, in the past two weeks, has resigned from his dual position as the city’s police chief and has been named in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Ryan Johnson, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of a veteran Woodway dispatcher, said he was disappointed by the council’s action.

Johnson, who says his law firm’s investigation has revealed other instances of sexual harassment dating back a decade, told reporters after the meeting there’s no reason why Zakhary shouldn’t have been fired immediately.

“This is a family community and this is not right,” he said.

He said he intends to hold Zakhary “and everyone else in the city or department who enabled him” accountable.

The meeting Friday was scheduled after the council held a special meeting Monday to discuss Zakhary’s position.

Zakhary was not at either of the meetings because he was attending the Texas Police Chief’s Association conference in Galveston.

After the meeting Monday, the council issued a statement in which members said, “After receiving and reviewing additional information, the feeling of the Council is that more serious action must be taken.”

“The City of Woodway and its City Council support the city’s employees and will not tolerate inappropriate conduct.”

On March 19, Zakhary resigned as the city’s public safety director as part of accepting responsibility for “inappropriate comments to an employee,” but remained in the city manager’s position.

The city’s attorney, Mike Dixon, read Zakhary's resignation letter during the March 19 city council meeting following a two-hour, closed-door executive session.

Council members accepted the resignation unanimously.

It’s effective April 11 because Zakhary is currently on medical leave.

Last month, Zakhary had triple bypass surgery in Dallas after suffering a heart attack the year before.

Assistant Chief Bret Crook, who has served as acting chief during Zakhary's medical leave, will continue to run the 40-member public safety department when the resignation goes into effect.

A week later Sandra Bickel, a 17-year veteran of the Woodway Department of Public Safety, filed suit in state district court against Zakhary and the City of Woodway, alleging sexual harassment.

Bickel alleges in the suit filed on March 26 that Zakhary “has made lewd, offensive and sexualized comments while in the workplace” and that “over time, the Woodway Public Safety Department has been permeated with Zakhary's comments of sexual innuendo, ridicule, degradation and insult.”

The suit alleges that Zakhary’s “pattern of long lasting and uninhibited inappropriateness and sexual misconduct has often gone un-redressed."

The suit filed by attorneys Johnson and Scott James details a number of alleged encounters between Zakhary and Bickel.

In one incident, in September 2017, the suit alleges Zakahary commented on the size of Bickel’s breasts, “suggesting that she seek breast augmentation…for his own gratification.”

Later during the same month, the suit alleges that Zakhary came up behind Bickel at a city-sponsored event “in front of multiple witnesses” and “pulled her pony tail multiple times, jerking (her) head back and forth in an effort to simulate a sex act, stating 'Oh yeah...you know that's what your boyfriend likes.’”

In another incident in October 2017, the suit alleges Zakhary asked Bickel to walk out to his car with him to discuss police dispatch and then “began commenting on the attractiveness of (her) physical appearance and referenced her naked body.”

The suit seeks unspecified punitive and exemplary damages.

Zakhary started his law enforcement career as a dispatcher with the Woodway DPS in 1979 and worked his way up to the chief position in 1985.

He's a graduate of Baylor University and the FBI National Academy.

Zakhary served as President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police from 2013-2014, has been an Adjunct Professor at Baylor University and McLennan Community College, served as chair for the M.C.C. Law Enforcement Advisory Committee Board, has been a board member for the Texas Mental Health Retardation (MHMR), served as president for the Waco Westside Rotary Club, and served as the Board President of the McLennan County E-9-1-1 Board of Managers since its inception in 1986.