Monday, December 21, 2009

Roanoke welcomes new city manager from Savannah Georgia

Christopher Paul Morrill, Roanoke's new city manager

Christopher Paul Morrill, Roanoke's new city manager

Christopher Paul Morrill, 47 assistant manager for the city of Savannah, Georgia is Roanoke’s new city manager beginning March 1, 2010. The noon announcement included Morrill’s wife, Kimberly and their two sons, Declan and Daniel who are in kindergarten and 7th grade. It was the first time they had seen snow. Morrill’s starting salary will be $170,000 a year. Trips to Roanoke to find suitable housing will also be paid by the city as will moving expenses. When asked Council member Gwen Mason indicated that it is unlikely that there will be any overlap with the exiting city manager, Darlene Burcham.

Below is Mr. Morrill’s complete resume and interview transcript as furnished by the search executive, Colin Baenziger, owner and principal of Colin Baenziger & Associates, Wellington Florida.


Master of Public Administration, University of North Carolina

Bachelor of Arts, College of the Holy Cross


  • Assistant City Manager, City of Savannah, GA 2001 – Present
  • Senior Municipal Finance Advisor, Research Triangle Institute, RTP, NC 1999 – 2001
  • Research and Budget Director, City of Savannah, GA 1994 – 1999
  • Peace Corps Volunteer, Ukraine 1992 – 1994
  • City of Savannah, GA 1988 – 1992 Research and Budget Director (two years) and Senior Management – Analyst (two years)
  • Senior Budget Analyst, Catawba County, NC 1986 – 1988
  • Downtown Project Manager, Lynn, MA 1984 – 1985


The population of Savannah is 143,000 people. The City has 2,600 employees and Mr. Morrill supervises 220. The total budget is $280 million while the general fund component is $180 million. The three most important issues that face Savannah: 

  • Financial impact of the recession. Revenues have declined yet the demand for services remains high;
  • Citizen engagement. Citizen participation in local government, and indeed awareness of what it is doing, has declined. Governments need to find new ways to engage and inform their residents; and
  • Balancing the economic development with environmental goals while maintaining a high quality of life.

Interview Comments

Mr. Morrill has been an Assistant City Manager for eight years in Savannah, GA. Although he feels no need to leave his position, he sees the City Manager position in Roanoke as an opportunity that he cannot pass up. Roanoke is a progressive community and has some of the same challenges Savannah has. He notes that over the past 20 years, Savannah has made many significant changes for the better and he want to bring not just his skills, but what he has learned, to Roanoke. He feels he can make a difference and help Roanoke become not just a better city but a better community. From a personal point of view, it is also one of few cities Mr. Morrill would consider moving to and living in. He enjoys the mountains and would be closer to family.

On a day to day basis, Mr. Morrill’s management style is to promote collaboration. Teamwork and unity is important. He empowers his staff to accomplish their goals but provides the guidance to be successful. He is not a micromanager but gives his staff both the responsibility to get the job done but also the authority. Accountability is important as well. In times of crisis, Mr. Morrill will take full command and make the decisions that are necessary. He has a good understanding of when it is appropriate for when he can guide and when he must lead.

Employees who have worked with Mr. Morrill would say he is enjoyable to work with and is a good mentor. He guides his staff and helps them develop. As they set priorities together, he is there to give them the resources and support they need. They would also note that it is not just business. He has a good sense of humor and attempts to make the workplace pleasant. Finally, he feels it is important to celebrate their successes.

The elected officials would say Mr. Morrill is a strong leader. He is proactive, assesses problems quickly and resolves them. He is a good manager and a team player. With the downturn of the economy, Mr. Morrill has taken more of a leadership role. Everyone recognizes that finance is one of his specialties and they tend to lean towards him for advice. He closely monitors the budget and keeps the elected officials well informed of the City’s financial status.

Mr. Morrill’s greatest strength is in financial planning. He has a strong finance background and is well experienced with budgets. In fact, he served as a resident advisor to the National Treasury of South Africa for about two years. He knows how to build a strong management and financial team. He enjoys learning, tackling new problems and resolving issues. He listens to people so he can understand their issues and learn from them. He is patient and sympathetic.

In terms of weakness, Mr. Morrill recognizes he focuses more on the big picture than the details. To combat this, he surrounds himself with good people who are detail oriented. By doing this, they help him see the details. It also allows him the freedom to pursue the projects and efforts that he and the City Manager feel will lead to improving Savannah.

Mr. Morrill’s biggest achievement has been a recent budgeting change in Savannah. Specifically he introduced a new budgeting philosophy called Budgeting for Outcomes to the staff and the City County. He had learned about the approach at a government finance conference in 2007 and thought it would be particularly appropriate in difficult financial times. The idea is to allocate funding to those services that are a priority to the residents instead of focusing on cuts in each department. As such, the City focuses on funding the services with the greatest positive outcomes. It took some effort but he has now educated the staff and Council. Everyone has embraced the idea and last January the Council set the City’s seven priorities for the next year. Then teams were created to address the priority teams. In all it involved 70 employees from different departments serving on seven teams. These teams have researched best practices from across the nation and followed examples in Washington and Iowa where the same philosophy has been implemented. They are ninety percent the way through the conversion. The result has been that they have found ways to maintain the core services and reduce costs. The effort has also lead to an increased level of collaboration within the government and in sharing services. The teams will make a presentation to the Council on November 30th where they will report their progress.

When asked about mistakes, Mr. Morrill spoke of an area just outside of downtown Savannah that was to be developed as a public park and for some other uses. It was a great project that would have had a very positive impact on the neighborhoods in the area. However, the City did not do the leg work upfront to keep the neighborhoods apprised of the nature of the project nor the benefits that would result from the project. As a result, the residents fought the project and it was cancelled. He learned the importance of involving the community early on in a project so they are informed, supportive and can provide input to make the project better. The City missed an opportunity to develop a great area because it assumed the community would support it. The central lesson was, “Do not assume the community members will see and embrace the vision of a project if you do not spend the time with them educating them.”

As the City has changed to Budgeting for Outcomes, it has provided a new way of measuring the performance of the organization. They are able to compare their outcome with other cities across America. Funding is provided to those services that have had clear outcomes of meeting priorities. Mr. Morrill still monitors the individual performance of each employee. At the year’s beginning, he discusses their strengths and weaknesses with them and makes a plan to accomplish their goals for the year. Their progress is checked periodically and another formal meeting is conducted at midyear.

When asked about terminating employment, Mr. Morrill noted he has terminated the employment of several employees during his career. He tries to work with those who have performance issues through coaching and mentoring. Sometimes no improvements can be made. The person is simply in the wrong job from the point of view of skills or personality. It is hard to let people go under these circumstances but it has to be done. Ideally you can find a position in the organization that does suit the individual but that is not always a possibility. Those employees who misuse their privileges or break the law are very easy to let go. On one occasion he had to fire an individual in the parks department who was misusing public funds.

Mr. Morrill sees the challenges facing the next Roanoke City Manager as:

  • Encouraging economic development that is a good fit with the community;
  • Working with the school board to improve the City’s schools;
  • Finding ways to help the poor climb out of poverty rate;
  • Working with the community to improve the neighborhoods; and
  • Addressing code enforcement issues.

If given the opportunity to serve as the next Roanoke City Manager, Mr. Morrill would spend his first six months doing the following:

  • Examining City’s issues,
  • Learning the history of the City and its neighborhoods;
  • Listening to the Council Members’ goals and vision:
  • Familiarizing himself with staff’s strengths and weaknesses; and
  •  Assessing the City’s financial position. Getting a proposed budget together quickly for the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year will be a priority.

Mr. Morrill feels the new manager must be out in the community and transparent if he/she is to earn the trust of the community. When things are wrong, one must acknowledge that. They also need to be fixed without, to the extent possible, assigning blame. Citizens respect honesty. Also, good citizen engagement helps the residents feel they have a voice in the community. Mr. Morrill mentioned a citizens’ academy that Savannah offered. It was an eight week course that focused on the different departments of the city government. He felt after this program the citizens had a better understanding and respect for the city government. They could see all the work that went into maintaining the City and the service the staff rendered in their behalf.

Mr. Morrill has a good relationship with the media. In his current position as Assistant City Manager, he is not in the media much. However, when needed, he has stepped in for the City Manager. He has worked with both television and print. He understands the media play an important role. He is honest and straightforward with his answers.

In his leisure time, Mr. Morrill enjoys being with his family, reading, biking, hiking and swimming. On occasion he has been a judge at swim meets.

Reason for Wanting to Leave Current Position:

Mr. Morrill is happy where he is but would like the opportunity to become a City Manager. He is in the peak years of his career and is ready to lead an organization. He has had the opportunity to work for and be mentored by an outstanding City Manager. He has also participated in the rebirth of Savannah. He wants to put what he has learned into practice in Roanoke. He just feels it is a great community, a community that has not realized its potential and a community he wants to live and work in.

Most Recent Base Salary – $150,000 base salary

Adjectives or phrases Mr. Morrill used to describe himself:

  • Enjoys working with people,
  • Visionary,
  • Progressive,
  • Good sense of humor,
  • Values relationships, and
  • Builds consensus.

Interviewer’s Impressions

Energetic, experienced, competent, congenial, and straightforward. Intelligent and creative with a good sense of humor. Has an easy laugh and ready to be a City Manager.

Interviewed by: Tiffany Gremmert and Colin Baenziger

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Community, Politics, Roanoke City Politics

Tags: ,

Comments (1)


December 22nd, 2009 at 10:26 AM    

What a great choice for the next city manager. Council has shown leadership on this decision. Way to go!!

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