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Kelly Butler to retire as finance director citing possible ALS diagnosis

By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala – State Finance Director Kelly Butler is retiring Aug. 1 due to medical complications that might be associated with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Gov. Kay Ivey said today.

Early symptoms point to an ALS diagnosis and Butler will undergo additional testing in the coming days, a press release from Ivey’s office said.

“Without exception, Kelly Butler has been the finest Finance Director to have ever served the state of Alabama,” Ivey said.  “He is the epitome of a dedicated public servant; he is as honest and hard working as he is good and decent.  The people of Alabama owe Kelly a profound debt of gratitude for his extraordinary example of what a true servant leader is and should be.”

The finance director is among the top jobs in the governor’s cabinet, responsible for running the Department of Finance and crafting the governor’s annual budget proposals. The position isn’t always high profile, but in the last year Butler has been the point man for the distribution of the state’s federal COVID-19 relief funds. 

Butler has worked for the state for about 36 years. He’s been finance director since 2018. Butler’s ascent to one of the highest positions in state government came the old fashioned way: he started at the bottom and worked his way up. While oftentimes governors choose political types as their finance chief, Ivey promoted Butler to the job after he had served in various state budgeting roles.

“Throughout my career, I have been so incredibly fortunate to work with many great people on behalf of our wonderful state,” Butler said.  “Serving as Gov. Ivey’s finance director has been the honor of a lifetime.  

“While this was not the news anyone would hope for, I take comfort in my faith and am grateful for the support I know Beverly, my family and I will receive going forward from so many friends, colleagues, and relatives.  Looking ahead, I’m going to do everything humanly possible to help the doctors and researchers find a cure for ALS so that one day, this becomes a disease that people talk about in the past.”

ALS affects as many as 30,000 people in the U.S., with 5,000 new cases diagnosed every year, according to John Hopkins School of Medicine.

Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70 but the disease can occur at a younger age.

House General Fund budget committee chairman Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said he’s worked with about a dozen finance directors since being elected in 1994.

“(Butler) is by far the most knowledgeable person that we’ve had in that office,” Clouse said. “A lot of smart people have been finance director, but he’s had that direct knowledge of working in the Legislative Fiscal Office for so many years that he didn’t need any on the job training. He knew exactly where the problems were with all the different agencies in the General Fund and the education budget and all aspects of state finances.”

Clouse said on top of running the state’s day-to-day finances, the department was thrown in “a tough situation” of navigating the rules for COVID relief funds, including about $1.9 billion that had to be spent last year. Butler’s office will be key in the dissemination of another $2.3 billion the state government will receive under that American Rescue Plan Act. Planning for that distribution is ongoing.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is the Senate education budget committee chairman and previous General Fund budget committee chairman. He said Wednesday the finance director job is a “critical position” in state government because that person serves on numerous state boards, including bonding authorities and the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

“They’re at the eye of the storm for anything financially related, even more than the state treasurer is because they represent the executive branch in those capacities,” Orr said.

The crafting of the state budgets every year starts in the finance director’s office and its also responsible for construction management and purchasing for the state, Orr said.

“It’s like running a multi-billion dollar organization,” Orr said. “But unfortunately it’s not as streamlined as a multi-billion dollar company because you’re got so many boards and committees and points of power influencing the flow of money across state government. (Finance director) is just a critical position.”

When asked who might be considered to replace Butler come August, the Governor’s Office declined to comment.

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