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Onondaga County lawmakers clear up dispute over COVID relief fund spending

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News file photo

Onondaga County lawmakers this week cleared up a dispute over how County Executive Ryan McMahon spent $61 million in COVID relief funds.

The dispute centered on whether the executive branch needed approval from lawmakers to spend the federal stimulus dollars. It was the reason a group of Democrats and Republicans coalesced earlier this year and ousted former Legislature Chair David Knapp from the leadership position. Legislator James Rowley, who took over as legislature chairman, said a resolution passed this week clears things up.

“It’s all above board now, it’s all in conformance with the charter, which was critical for me,” said Rowley. “I didn’t want to set a bad precedent and have money that was appropriated that was in violation of the charter. So it all worked out and I’m satisfied with it."

Rowley says the legislature knew where the spending was going, even if they didn’t vote on it.

“It’s all transparent and reportable in one way or another,” he said. “But coming back to the legislature will give certain members comfort that we keep our fingers on what’s being spent.”

Rowley said some of the spending went to parks, tourism, mental health support for schools and building improvements, among other things. The resolution acknowledges that spending by the legislature.

But most Democrats voted against the resolution. Floor leader Chris Ryan says there were still several million dollars in spending not included in the resolution.

“This cleans up some stuff for all of us,” Ryan said. “But at the end of the day, an appropriation of the full amount, we weren’t comfortable voting for that."

McMahon is on board with this according to Rowley, acknowledging legislators' concerns.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.