Yost Zakhary, hounded by charges of sexual harassment, ended his long career Monday with the city of Woodway as the council accepted his immediate resignation as city manager and public safety director.
The Woodway council voted 7-0 to accept Zakhary’s resignation as city manager, which he had offered last Thursday.
He had agreed last month to step down April 11 as public safety director, but with his consent, both resignations were made effective immediately.
In a letter made public Monday, Zakhary told the council he is resigning with “a great deal of mixed emotions” and thanked the council for allowing him to serve for nearly four decades.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Zakhary said he has the “distinct privilege” of serving the city of Woodway since 1979, when he went to work as a 911 dispatcher. Six years later, he was named public safety director, a position he held until his March 19 resignation.
He has also been city manager since 2001, and he stated that the dual role saved the city some $2.5 million over the years. He said he is leaving the city in excellent financial shape.
“Now, the City of Woodway is viewed as one of the premier cities not only within the county and region, but also within the state,” he wrote. “I wholeheartedly thank our City Council members, both past and present, our employees, and our residents for the many years of dedicated support, commitment, and (camaraderie), and as I retire, I wish you all and Woodway the very best.”
Finance Director William Klump will now serve as acting city manager, while Assistant Chief Bret Crook, who has headed the Public Safety Department while Zakhary has been on medical leave, will be acting chief.
Woodway City Council members on March 19 accepted Zakhary’s resignation as public safety director after an employee accused him of sexual harassment.
But they allowed him to remain city manager and continue to draw his annual salary of $190,000. Zakhary has been on medical leave recently, recuperating from triple-bypass heart surgery. He is still eligible to draw his retirement from the city.
After the decision, council members were bombarded with negative public comments for allowing Zakhary to remain in the city manager’s position and continue to supervise all city departments. That prompted the council to say that “more serious action must be taken” regarding the sexual harassment allegations.
The council suspended Zakhary as city manager March 30 as city officials continued an investigation into allegations that Zakhary created a hostile working environment with persistent inappropriate comments and behavior.
Some of the allegations are included in a lawsuit filed last month. Sandra Bickel, a 17-year city employee, alleges that Zakhary has “permeated” city offices with “ongoing lewd, inappropriate and sexualized comments often directed at specific female employees,” and that he “engaged in sexualized, unwanted touching of multiple female employees and/or former employees.”
Waco attorney Scott James, who is representing Bickel with attorney Ryan Johnson, said he wishes the council had taken stronger action earlier.
“In one sense, it’s a step, in the right direction because my client knows he’s out and is no longer in position of authority over her,” James said. “But in the interest of the citizens of Woodway, why did it take three weeks for this to happen and why was he not terminated for cause? He has already admitted he made inappropriate comments.”
James said he is eager to find out the terms of Zakhary’s resignation, which he said will come out as the lawsuit and Bickel’s Texas Workforce Commission complaint are pursued.
The lawsuit also alleges Zakhary has ridiculed female employees about their weight, breast size and physical appearance and has taken unauthorized photos of at least one female employee’s body parts with his cellphone and has shown the photos to others, according to Johnson.
The lawsuit Bickel filed against Zakhary and the city said he refers to himself as “the king of Woodway” among city employees.
Bickel has said she was disappointed that Waco attorney Mike Dixon, who represents the city, only acknowledged in a brief statement last month the inappropriate comments Zakhary made, with no reference to unwanted and inappropriate physical contact by Zakhary.
“We intend to hold Mr. Zakhary, and any city of Woodway public officials enabling or protecting him, accountable for Zakhary’s sexual misconduct and to vigorously protect the rights of Ms. Bickel and all the other female public servants who are or have been victims of sexual harassment or assault while employed by the city of Woodway,” said Johnson, the attorney.
Bickel alleges in her complaint to the city that Zakhary grabbed her ponytail, jerked her head back and forth several times and said, “Oh, yeah, you know that’s what your boyfriend likes” at a Woodway barbecue fundraiser in September.
“Multiple female employees and/or former employees have felt distraught, humiliated, embarrassed, scared and physically nauseous due to a pattern of sexual misconduct by Yost Zakhary,” Johnson said in a statement. “The victims have been rendered helpless and afraid because the perpetrator was both the director of Woodway Public Safety Department and the city manager of Woodway.”
The comment was made in front of several witnesses, including one who “attempted to stop the chief’s movement and tried to smooth my hair,” according to Bickel’s complaint.
In another alleged incident, Zakhary asked Bickel to walk with him to his car. She said Zakhary complimented her on her weight loss and said she was looking good.
“He added, ‘Then again, I haven’t seen you naked or anything.’ I was caught off-guard by that comment and again nervously laughed it off. I made a comment, which I don’t remember, as I was uncomfortable and didn’t really know what to say or do at that point,” she said.
Another incident alleged in Bickel’s complaint occurred during a going-away party for an employee, she said. She was walking toward the dispatch office toward the training room when Zakhary yelled for her to come to the front office. She said he was giving a “shoulder rub” to another female employee and reportedly said, “See, this is how you treat a good employee that I like.”
She walked away, but Zakhary called her back to the front office and made a comment in front of the other employee about how she likes “being spanked.” She said she walked away and Zakhary called her back and said he was just playing.
“Again, I walked away. I was given the advice of next time he made any comments to not acknowledge it and just walk away. This is the first incident where I was able to take the advice and it seemed to work,” Bickel wrote.
Bickel’s complaint said other city employees who work for the city have noticed how Zakhary treated her. Other women have told her they are “scared for me and don’t want me to be alone with the chief.” A male employee whose name was redacted by the city told Bickel she should report what was happening, saying, “We all see that the Chief is targeting you.”
Bickel said she wanted to report it, but was confused about to whom to report it. Zakhary was police chief and city manager at the time.
“Who is going to believe me? I was still in fear of losing my job if I report this about the chief. I am afraid that I will be treated differently and eventually be in a very hostile work environment that anything I do would be marked against me,” Bickel wrote. “I truly thought I can just ignore what has happened and pray when he comes back that it would stop. But deep down I don’t believe it would stop.”
Mayor Don Baker and council member Gil Lillard declined comment Monday after the 75-minute executive session in which the council discussed Bickel’s lawsuit.
Council member Bob Howard said Zakhary’s resignation letter “speaks for itself,” while council member Jane Kittner said, “We accepted his resignation. We had to.” She walked away, declining to elaborate.