A female manager at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority said Johnson County Commissioner Steve Klika grabbed her by the face and shook her head violently last summer in what she told the Star was “a domineering and egregious abuse of power.”
Klika was chairman of the ATA board at the time of the July encounter at the transit agency’s headquarters.
Libby Lynch, benefits manager at the transit agency, broke her silence Wednesday concerning the long-rumored incident. She spoke with The Star exclusively after appearing at the board of trustees meeting and called for Klika’s removal as Johnson County’s representative on the board.
“He crossed a line,” Lynch told The Star. “Klika would have never done it to a man, because somebody would have cold-cocked him.”
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Klika was not at the board meeting Wednesday, but later denied that he did anything improper. He has resigned as chairman but remains on the board.
In an interview, Lynch said she recognized the trustees probably did not have the power to kick Klika off the board, as Klika serves at the pleasure of his fellow Johnson County commissioners.
But she felt compelled to speak out publicly for the first time, she said, after an article appeared on the Shawnee Mission Post website this week in which Klika described the incident as something more benign than what she said actually occurred.
Rumors have been swirling since last summer that Klika had a violent encounter with a female KCATA employee while visiting the transit agency’s headquarters several blocks southeast of downtown Kansas City.
But the name of the woman was never revealed and transportation authority officials declined comment when pressed by The Star on multiple occasions. A records request revealed nothing about the incident.
Lynch told board members Wednesday that she was the unidentified woman referred to in the Post article, in which Klika said the incident was only one reason he stepped down unexpectedly as chairman of the KCATA in August.
Klika told the Post that he and an unnamed KCATA employee later identified as Lynch were discussing a problem that she was having getting co-workers to pay attention. According to the website, Klika told Lynch that “sometimes you have to talk to them like a youngster” and then demonstrated by putting his hands on her face to show her how to get someone to look you in the eye.
“It was an instructional or demonstration deal,” he told the Post. “I did not want anyone at all to feel uncomfortable.”
Lynch, benefits manager in the human resources department, told The Star that Klika mischaracterized what really happened.
She, in fact, felt very uncomfortable. As a woman in her 50s, Lynch said she is not timid, but she was shocked at his treatment of her.
“No one has ever laid his hands on me like that,” she said.
Lynch said she and her boss were in conversation early one morning last July when Klika “barged in” to the boss’ office and began what Lynch described as “a pompous rant.”
According to her account, Klika said that he, as board chairman, was responsible for Lynch and her boss having jobs. In fact the board only hires the chief executive officer. The CEO is responsible for hiring and firing everyone else.
The physical encounter, which Lynch said fell short of an assault and was not sexual, occurred while Klika was discussing his differences with chief operating officer Sam Desue.
“He got up and crossed the room and grabbed ahold of my face, around the chin line,” she said. “He was so close to me I could feel his breath on my lips. …
“He stood kind of holding my face, a bit of shake to it, and really he was telling me how I should handle our COO. I could hardly even speak.”
After Klika let go, Lynch excused herself and went to her office shaken. Two employees in the hall also witnessed the incident through the office window, she said.
An investigation ensued after she told Desue and the agency’s legal counsel what happened.
Klika resigned as chairman the next month and a new policy now bans all board members from the KCATA offices except during board meetings and at the invitation of CEO Robbie Makinen.
Lynch did not file a lawsuit or seek a monetary settlement, she said.
“My purpose is to remove Klika from the board,” she said.
That’s a moot point, Klika told The Star. His term ends in January and he does not plan to seek reappointment, he said, because he does not want to be a distraction as the agency works on building a better transit system.
Johnson County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert said Klika would not have been reappointed if he had applied.
“I am sincerely sorry for all this because it causes such a shadow,” said Klika, who sticks by his version of the events that morning.
“Obviously there is a difference in perceptions in what went on,” he said. “I had my hands by her cheeks just to give her an example.”
He said it wasn’t violent.
“If I crossed that safe line, I am so sorry.”
Klika remains a member of the Johnson County Commission; his term ends in 2021.