Cindy Rohlf was not born in Newport News. But she comes across as a native.
Rohlf has fallen in love with the city and talks about it like a proud mother, ticking off its achievements and progress. After two decades of living here, her roots run deep.
Although raised in Pennsylvania, she considers Newport News her home.
Rohlf is Newport News’ city manager. She has worked for the city for years, but just completed her first year at the helm. Being in command, Rohlf has the job of making sure the city runs smoothly and efficiently. She oversees a financial plan of almost $1 billion, including an operating budget of $867 million and a general fund of $486 million, and a city workforce of 3,400 full-time employees and almost 4,000 part-time and season workers.
“I’m very fortunate that I love what I do,” she says. “There is always a new issue or problem to handle. Part of what I enjoy about the job is the discussion that happens and being able to ask questions.”
Rohlf, 58, is inquisitive by nature, a fast learner who looks at all angles of every issue before crafting a solution. She is also a team player, one who wants to hear from everyone involved.
“I always argue each side of an argument,” she says. “I like playing devil’s advocate. It helps me form an opinion and gels it in my mind.”
Rohlf worked for the City of Suffolk before coming to Newport News. She became assistant city manager of Newport News is 2008 and was named city manager in 2017. She has embraced the position, doing her best to bring satisfaction to businesses and citizens alike. She is the first female city manager in the history of Newport News.
“There is so much potential here,” she says. “Everything we do, we try to do for the right reason.”
Rohlf is quick to say she’s not a one-person show. She depends heavily on the capability and positivity of city employees to help her carry out the city’s missions and goals. She says she is constantly impressed by those working both in city hall and in the trenches to get things accomplished in Newport News. She works hand in hand with the mayor and city council.
“There is a real sense of pride here. Everyone is engaged,” she says. “We have really good people. We have one of the best teams you can find. Our employees are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and committed.”
Born in Uniontown, Pa., Rohlf graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in political science and government. She also did graduate work at Pittsburg.
Being a city manager was not on Rohlf’s career radar until she had a class where students role-played different jobs. She immediately honed in on the city manager position.
“I became really interested in it,” Rohlf says. “It seemed to be my niche.”
City manager forms of government are not prevalent on the East Coast. So when her husband accepted a job at Newport News Shipbuilding, it seemed serendipitous since Virginia is the birthplace of the city manager format.
“When we first moved here, Newport News felt like home to me,” she says. “I am doing what I studied in college. I enjoy it as much today as when I started. I work with great people. None of this could happen without everybody in this building.”
Rohlf is even keeled. She embraces the day-to-day challenges. She never knows what she will handle but is not one to get flustered. Instead, she jumps head first into finding a solution. Putting all pieces together and bringing different parties to the table to converse about an issue is what Rohlf enjoys most. Rohlf asks lots of questions and is constantly educating herself.
“I enjoy the discussion and the thought process involved in politics,” she says. “The most rewarding experience is when you feel like you make a difference.”
Rohlf is accessible, always eager to talk to a citizen or business owner. She wants businesses to feel comfortable in the city and to want to stay here for years to come. Creating that type of environment is critical, she says. “We try to be as inviting as we can for businesses,” she says.
Different parts of the city have different needs and concerns, she says. That is a challenge Rohlf enjoys handling “We always find a way,” she says. “We identify what a neighborhood needs and put resources toward it.”
Hilton is celebrating its 100th year this year. The northern end of Warwick Boulevard in Denbigh could use a commercial uplift. City Center’s entertainment district is starting to take off. And the city would like to revitalize parts of the southeast community. It’s all in a day’s work for Rohlf and her staff.
“When it comes down to it, we are one city,” she says. “There are issues in every part. We make sure folks understand how everything fits in and how we pull it together.”
The city is a finalist for a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiative HUD grant that would transform an East End neighborhood.
“The development of the southeast community is huge. It’s so important to the success of the whole city,” she says.
Rohlf’s 10th floor office in City Hall overlooks the shipyard, City Center, the James River and downtown. There are so many facets to Newport News. And Rohlf embraces them with an inclusive passion and a vision for success.
“I try to look forward and set the groundwork for the future,” she says.