Commissioner T.C. Rogers said the resignation came as a surprise and Keels did not give the commissioners a reason for her departure.
“I didn’t know she was going to quit,” he said. “There was no specific event that prompted it.”
Keels’ last day is Feb. 7. She is earning $117,130.
Rogers and Commissioner Don Dixon, who said he was also unaware Keels was resigning, said they did not ask her to reconsider.
“I’ve found over the years that once those decisions are made, with a lot of thought put into it, if they make that kind of a decision and you try and talk them out of it, it just seems like it never really works out well,” Dixon said. “They are all the time thinking, ‘Well, I should have gone and I didn’t go.’”
Dixon and Rogers said Keels did not indicate whether she is leaving for another job. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter could not be reached for comment.
“She did a good job for us,” Dixon said.
Rogers also praised Keels’ work.
“I appreciated her work and the relationship that we had with getting the finances in order,” Rogers said. “I wish her well.”
Keels took charge of the county’s finances in early 2013 and announced a general fund debt-free plan during budget hearings two years later.
During her “budget hearing” in 2015 Keels presented the commissioners with a plan, which they subsequently approved, to have the entire general fund debt paid off by the end of this year. Accelerated payments have enabled the county to erase the debt that stood at $91.3 million in 2009.
The debt-free plan has been a coordinated effort with the commissioners, former County Administrator Charlie Young and Keels.
“It took everybody, we were all just trying to get back to some comfortable place financially with the county,” Dixon said. “We were all trying to figure out how to get where we wanted to be, it was little bit of everybody, it’s not just one person, it was a joint effort.”
Dixon said the county will likely advertise the position, and a team including the commissioners, Boyko, County Auditor Roger Reynolds and others will have input. He said he is confident existing staff can operate the finance office until a replacement is hired.
“We’ve got a couple other financial people in the office and we’re in a lot better shape to move forward now than we were when she came,” Dixon said. “She left a lot better place than the way she found it.”
MORE: Why Butler County’s budget has turned into a ‘celebration versus a crisis’
Reynolds said he wishes Keels well and his office is ready to assist the finance department.
“We support the commissioners in their efforts to build upon their finance team and do everything we can to make sure county business continues to run efficiently and effectively,” Reynolds said.
The last time a top official left, the commissioners hand-picking Boyko a year ago instead of advertising the position after Young surprised his colleagues with his retirement from government.
The county has replaced multiple longtime, top officials in recent years.
The first among them was Purchasing and Asset Director Randy Quisenberry, who left in November 2016 for a job at the Council on Aging for Southwest Ohio. Former Assistant Jobs and Family ServicesDirector Jerome Kearns died suddenly just before Christmas in 2016.
In 2017, former JFS Executive Director Ray Pater resigned in February after a two-month leave of absence, former Human Resources Director Jim Davis retired to pursue a career in teaching, Water and Sewer Director Bob Leventry retired in August and Chuck Demidovich, administrator at the county nursing home, retired in September.
Then in 2018, assistant Water and Sewer director Sue Vance, who served as acting director after Leventry left, resigned to lead the Southwest Regional Water District in May. Ron Davis, who ran the Butler County Regional Airport, was fired in June. Young announced his retirement in December.
Last year, Jennifer Strickland, who followed Demidovich as head of the Care Facility county nursing home, resigned in May.
Keels was hired during a period when the county was starting to pull out of a financial abyss, and she leaves with the situation stabilized.
“As we head into 2021 the revenues that were used to pay $10 million of debt will be at zero and give the commissioners and the administrator the opportunity to focus on infrastructure (and) economic development,” Keels said previously about the county’s finances. “(The year) 2020 is an important year to pay off the debt, so I think it’s really a year of celebration versus a crisis.”