Negative voices killing Ripley

I consider myself to be a fairly reasonable person, slow to anger, quick to forgive. Today I am seeing red. I hope this column makes sense and follows a logical progression because I am a bit wound up.

There is a book out, with a follow-up, written by a former Ripley school teacher who lives in North East, Pa., that claims to factually represent nepotism and cronyism in the Ripley school system. I do not wish to give further credence to these twin books by talking about them at length, I only wish to say that his is one side of a story that the opposite side has decided to not justify with a response.

However, having read the first of these two books, I doubt the validity of the purpose. To me, it was a poorly written, wandering tirade against certain people with whom the author has had disagreements. It seems vindictive and self-serving. The author claims that he could sit down with any of the people he attacks and they would welcome an opportunity to have a cup of coffee and a chat with him. He is sorely mistaken. I asked the people he has charged, and to a person, they all said, “Hell, no.”

He charges nepotism and cronyism in his recent commentary in the paper and in his book. Of course there is nepotism and cronyism! This is Ripley. It is a small town. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody is practically related to everyone else somewhere down the family tree. Cronyism infers that the appointee may be unqualified for the position. I can’t speak to that. To my knowledge, every person appointed or hired for a position in Ripley has, or is in the process of getting, the appropriate education and training for said position.

I find it quite incredible that some of the allegations in question were actually put into practice by this author when he was head of the teacher’s union in Ripley. He certainly didn’t suffer by the policies for retirees which he fought for. The financial status of the school district has been managed for many years by an individual who has extensive knowledge of financial management and has kept Ripley school in the black, unlike many of its counterparts in Chautauqua County, who are struggling to stay viable. Ripley should be proud of its ability to give our children the education they receive in this age of declining enrollment and higher taxes (not just school taxes). Much of the “excess” in staff is mandated by the State of New York. Talk to Cuomo if you’re unhappy. The Eagle U program offered to our elementary kids is being copied in other schools as an example of teaching “outside the box.”

It saddens me to know that certain citizens of this town I love, have chosen to believe, unquestioningly, the allegations made by one disgruntled former employee. There is so much more to Ripley.

For decades Ripley has been the forgotten underdog of Chautauqua County. The Interstate highway system cut Ripley off from travelers who in past years would stop at its many stores and shops. The New Year’s Day fire in 1965 that destroyed most of the center of town, left its residents reeling, unable to recover from the loss for decades.

Ripley is experiencing a renaissance, finally. The center of town still remains a gaping hole, but businesses are coming back, slowly but surely. The Ripley Hamilton Mansion was purchased and renovations begun, and is now a successful bed and breakfast. The old O’Donnell’s bar has been sold and will be the site of a new business this fall. Meeder’s Restaurant is under new ownership and expanding their catering business as well as running one of the best small town restaurants around. The Ripley Hardware store is under new ownership and working to meet the needs of this small population with a traveling repair truck and small engine repair shop in addition to a large supply of hardware needs. A Dollar General store will soon be under construction. One microbrewery is open and another in the works where the old Ripley Feed Mill was located years ago. A new restaurant has opened where Papa’s Restaurant used to be.

An event center and winery is opening soon on the Lake Road. The Ripley beach will reopen with picnic tables, removable stairs, toilet facilities and tent camping area if all goes as planned. The Ripley Revitalization Committee is working hard to apply for grants to refurbish the downtown area.

Don’t tell me anyone or any entity is “Killing Ripley.” Ripley struggles just like any small town in this country. We have been down and out for a long time, but there is a new generation who are working diligently to bring this town back. And we will. The negativity that has been rampant for decades is slowly dying.

Everyone I know is doing their personal best to make this a great community in which to live. Perhaps we don’t live up to some people’s standards, but then, we aren’t looking for ways to smear reputations. We’re actually doing something positive to create change.

Robyn Near is a Ripley resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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