DISD Whistleblowers | No Good Deed


Zachariah Manning | Image by Zachariah Manning/Twitter

When whistleblower Zachariah Manning allegedly discovered evidence of illicit “sequential purchasing” at Dallas Independent School District (DISD), he expressed his opposition to the practice to two of his superiors at a meeting on November 3, 2015, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

Manning claimed to have found a taxpayer-funded procurement package that was allegedly structured in such a way that roofing work at Hillcrest High School, Wilson High School, and other DISD facilities would be broken up into various components valued at just under $500,000.

This would evade legally-required approval by the Board of Trustees and competitive bidding, per the Texas government code on purchasing and contracting by municipalities.

According to Manning, per a lawsuit he filed against the district in 2018, what followed was a campaign of retaliatory harassment by his supervisor, Sylvia Peña, director of Capital Improvement for DISD.

After telling Peña and Willie Burroughs, executive director of Maintenance and Facilities Services, that he was against the purported sequential purchasing he discovered, Manning proceeded to follow the law and do his job.

He bundled the component parts of the project and scheduled meetings with potential contractors, all in anticipation of abiding by the competitive bidding process, according to an email exchange between Manning and Peña.

Noticing that the roofing project was not moving along as quickly as she was expecting, Peña emailed Manning on November 20, 2015, and threatened to take the job away from him and assign it to a different project manager.

Manning replied, detailing the steps he had taken in furtherance of the project by noting that he was doing so by the book, “for the best interest of DISD within my power,” he wrote.

According to court papers, Peña met with Manning on December 10, 2015, to discuss the roofing project. She subsequently accused him of being “insubordinate, unprofessional, and… fostering poor relations with his supervisor.”

The next day, Peña relegated Manning to “maintenance cleanup” and “electronic project files” (or “the archives room”), allegedly in retaliation for his refusal to engage in sequential purchasing for their department.

In his lawsuit against the district, Manning claimed Peña would often change his directives, allegedly overloading him with projects — even when he technically had less experience than his fellow project managers.

In other instances, Peña would apparently limit essential work-related support, such as pulling Capital Improvement Project Specialist Robert Adame and reassigning him, further overloading Manning.

On April 27, 2016, Willie Burroughs dumped four more projects on Manning, “even while Manning was already complaining about having the largest workload in his department.” Manning appealed to Peña the following week, but she only pulled one of the new projects, hardly putting a dent in his workload.

In the days that followed, Manning claimed that Peña confronted him about jobs running late. He claimed she verbally consented to give him more time to wrap up certain project logs and then reneged in an email, placing a hard deadline, which Manning claimed he met.

Peña and Burroughs continued to overburden Manning, allegedly trying to find some pretext for his termination.

Peña would press Manning further, putting him through a performance review that no other project manager had undergone — to be discussed in the next edition of this series.

At an “Intervention Plan Meeting” held on August 24, 2016, intended to flesh out Peña’s “observations” that Manning was performing his job poorly, she stated:

“From the very beginning when I spoke with you back in September 16, September 9th when you first started, I said that the only way construction happens, the only way this team works is that I can trust the people that work for me.”

Manning was issued a termination letter on November 16, 2016.

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2 months ago

Always follow the breadcrumbs!

Last edited 2 months ago by TrustyMusty
Reply to  TrustyMusty
2 months ago

Not breadcrumbs….MONEY…

2 months ago

Sounds like Peña was getting kickbacks from the contractors she gave the jobs to. Michael Hinojosa hands aren’t clean either. He probably brought Peña in when he became superintendent. Now, Peña works for San Antonio ISD. She needs to be investigated as does Michael Hinojosa.

pat dempsey
pat dempsey
2 months ago

Maybe I missed something? This seems like old news, what is the purpose of the story? What was the result of the lawsuit? Any criminal behavior investigated?

2 months ago

I’m not surprised.
working for Fallas ISD is like working for the mafia!