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In Surprise Move, Onondaga County Lawmakers Oust Knapp As Chairman, Appoint Jim Rowley

chiarman rowley.jfif
Scott Willis
Newly appointed legislature chairman Jim Rowley conducts the final business of the chamber's organizational meeting.

The Onondaga County legislature has a new chairman. After hours of back room negotiations Monday, Jim Rowley was appointed to succeed Dave Knapp, who served as the chamber’s leader since 2018. But democrats and even some republicans soured on what they say was Knapp’s lack of leadership of the legislature as an independent branch of county government. Rowley promised to earn lawmakers trust, and says he will not take marching orders from the county executive or the republican party.

"I don't know if it gets institutionalized or what, but I hope to break that mold. I am not going to be a rubber stamp for the county executive. I admire the county executive, I think he does a great job. He has some great ideas, but we need to have our say on issues. And we will."

Democrat Peggy Chase nominated Rowley as chairman. All six democrats and three republicans supported him.

"He has consistently been verbal about the fact that we are an independent body, and the feeling that we are kind of controlled by the county exec."

Chase says despite their political differences, she has faith that Rowley will change the direction of the legislature. She previously supported Knapp when he was nominated. But Chase says she became very disappointed in his unwillingness to work with democrats.

"The past couple of years have been really awful, and he hasn't made it any better. At a time when we needed more collaboration, it wasn't happening."

Rowley told his colleagues that he will treat everyone with respect and fairness. He says the legislature is a crucial check on the county executive.

"We control the power of the purse. We are the only body that can adopt a budget, appropriate funds, create and abolish positions, as well as fund them. Only we can adopt changes to the charter and code. We have much power as a legislative body, and we should exercise this power with fidelity and care."

Rowley has served two terms as legislator. He previously served as the county's chief financial officer, Clay Town Supervisor, and Cicero budget officer.

In the end, Knapp was never nominated to serve again as chair, and appeared dejected when he appeared in chambers nearly three hours after the meeting was scheduled to start.

"Obviously the past two years have been very difficult. I had the honor of serving during that time. But I think maybe the time has come to move on."

Knapp nominated Julie Abbott as chair, but she lost to Rowley by a 9 to 8 vote.
Knapp won reelection to his seat on the legislature in November, and will continue to serve his rural 12th district in LaFayette as he has since 2012.

Scott Willis
Former legislature chairman Dave Knapp nominates Julie Abbott to succeed him. Rowley prevailed in a 9 to 8 vote.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at