VA: Chris Morrill, City of Roanoke, City Manager

Posted on March 28, 2014

Update: Morrill To Resign as City Mananger – Accepts Appointment As GFOA Executive Director

Chris Morrill


Roanoke (VA) City Manager

Education: College of the Holy Cross, BA, Political Science and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, MPA, Local Government Management

Experience: Executive Board Member, GFOA and Assistant City Manager, City of Savannah

Connect: LinkedIn

Background Check 

Christopher P. Morrill was appointed Roanoke’s City Manager in March 2010. Mr. Morrill came to Roanoke from the City of Savannah, Ga. where he had served as Assistant City Manager since August 2001.

Previously, he served as Senior Municipal Finance Advisor for the Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, N.C. from October 1999 to August 2001 where he advised the South African National Treasury on local government finance reform; was a fellow of the Kellogg National Leadership Program from 1997 to 2000; and was Research and Budget Director for the City of Savannah, Ga. from December 1994 to October 1999, and from Oct. 1990 to October 1992. From December 1992 to October 1994, Mr. Morrill worked as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, City of Lviv, Ukraine.

He has been an instructor for Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) national courses including “Budgeting Best Practices,” “Budget Academy,” and “Capital Budgeting and Financial Planning”; and for an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) National Audioconference: “Practical Steps to Successful 311/ Constituent Relationship Management Service Implementation.”

Background Check

Connect: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and World Wide Web

Roanoke (formerly Big Lick) has a population of 97,032 and is the largest municipality in Southwest Virginia. Roanoke’s status as the largest city in a mountainous area led to the nickname “Capital of the Blue Ridge”.

Roanoke has a weak mayor-city manager form of government. The current mayor of Roanoke is David A. Bowers. The city council has six members, not counting the mayor, all of whom are elected on an at-large basis.

images (3)The city is the health care and retail hub of a large area, driving the expansion of Carilion Health System and Valley View Mall. Advance Auto Parts is headquartered in Roanoke and has expanded through the acquisition of other chains to become one of the largest auto parts retailers in the country. Norfolk Southern remains a major employer.

Roanoke’s festivals and cultural events include the Chili Cook-Off, Festival in the Park, Local Colors Festival, Henry Street Festival, Big Lick Blues Festival, Strawberry Festival, and the large red, white, and blue illuminated Mill Mountain Star (formerly illuminated in red following drunk driving fatalities in the Roanoke Valley; temporarily illuminated in white on April 22, 2007 in remembrance of the Virginia Tech Massacre of April 16, 2007) on Mill Mountain, which is visible from many points in the city and surrounding valley.

Notable Residents

  • Famous medical patient Henrietta Lacks
  • NBA basketball player George Lynch
  • Singer Wayne Newton (raised in Roanoke)
  • Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association (raised in Roanoke)
  • Astrophysicist and Nobel laureate John C. Mather, one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2009.

Lightning Round


Best piece of advice from your parents.

Always continue to learn.

Read, research, and be interested.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?

Bruce Springsteen and Sarah McLaughlin

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….

See my two boys grow up to lead happy and fulfilled lives

Three most influential books in your life.

  • Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham;
  • Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin; and
  • Without Feathers by Woody Allen

download (5)If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?

  • Nelson Mandela
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • John Stewart (College of William and Mary graduate)
  • Barack Obama
  • Mother Theresa

Describe the inside of your car.

Messy — very messy.  Full of handouts from meetings, post-it notes, boots with steal toes and a hard hat for work sites.

What’s the meaning of life?

To make a difference in the world — no matter how small.

Q and A


Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.

  • Dillon rule
  • Professional
  • Financially challenged

We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? How did you end up in local government?

download (1)I guess I was a nerd because at 12 I knew I wanted to work in government.  My first local government job was Downtown Project Manager in Lynn, MA (“Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin. You never come out the way you went in.”).  My Dad was on the local town council while I was growing up so I was involved from a very early age.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

  • Assisting new folks in the local government profession be successful
  • Managing to attend most of  my kids important life, school and athletic events
  • Building a strong, collaborative leadership team

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.

Biggest mistakes I have made are nearly all related to  not really listening to understand the citizen, activist, employee, elected official, etc.

Our experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor”. Has this been your experience?

Explaining  what I do  is often a challenge.  When  my four  year old asked me one day, I explained all the different services and the City Council…  — and he just looked at me bewildered. So I said that I made sure the city had enough firetrucks.  That made sense to him.

How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?

I think ICMA’s “Life, Well Run” campaign is a great example of  how to  help citizens understand the real  value they receive from their local government.  By nature, most of us are not self promoters. However, we can more intentionally be promoters of public service.

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?

I know I should say yes.  However, with the hyper-partisanship and lack  of civility we face daily, while I would encourage my friends and children to volunteer and be involved in their local government, I would only recommend it as a profession if they are very resilient, can take criticism and are internally motivated.

Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impress.

  • Listen
  • Demonstrate that you have a passion for  service
  • Show me that you are truly interested in local  government.  Tell me about what you’ve observed in cities you  have visited, what local governments are models, and what you read to keep up to date with the profession.

Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.

  • Gordon Whitaker, NC Institute of Government
  • Michael Brown, former City Manager of Savannah, GA

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………

More resilient, more  flexible, and the organization that citizens go to improve their communities  and lives.

What question(s) should we have asked you?

  • What is the future of the local  government profession?
  • How do you keep your sense of humor?

Supplemental Reading

50 Nifty Profiles




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