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SUPERVISOR WILL OPEN VIRTUAL DOOR TO HIS OFFICE

Celebrities including former President Bill Clinton, the teen heartthrob group Backstreet Boys and basketball star Shaquille O'Neal all have fielded questions in online chats with Internet users.

Now Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Ronald H. Moline is joining the e-fray.

The town's computer experts have set up a chat room on the town's Web site, and Moline soon will be able to meet town residents in an informal Internet bull session.

"This just adds another dimension to our desire to be close, available and responsive to our constituents," Moline said.

Visitors to the town's Web site -- at www.tonawanda.ny.us -- already can post comments on a message board, which acts as an online bulletin board.

As of Wednesday, no one had.

Moline just has to schedule times when he and possibly other town officials will participate in a chat, said James B. Jones, the town's systems engineer.

A chat room is a "virtual living room," Jones said.

"Anybody in that room would be able to speak, and anybody in that room would be able to hear" everything typed in, he said.

The chat room is a Yahoo! E-Group, Jones said, and participants will have to sign up with Yahoo! to take part. There is no cost to register or to chat.

Jones, or later Moline, will moderate the chats.

The town will be able to bar people who use vulgar or rude language from participating, Jones said.

Moline said Councilwoman Amy J. Murphy has urged the town to embrace new technology, and it was her suggestion to set up a chat room on the town's Web site.

The supervisor admits he's not the most technologically savvy person.

He and his wife, Diane, had a rotary phone at their house up until two years ago, and they still don't have an answering machine, voice mail or caller ID.

But the supervisor said he hopes the online chats will reach younger people who don't necessarily get involved in town government.

An official with the Association of Towns of the State of New York said he didn't know if any other town supervisors in the state had held online chats.

But Tom Bodden, the group's manager of research and information, said nearly all of New York's towns use the Internet and e-mail as a way for officials to keep in touch with each other and their constituents.

"The Internet is huge right now in local government," Bodden said.

The idea of a chat room drew laughs at a Tonawanda Town Board workshop Monday. Gordon Gresch, a deputy town attorney, said it should be called "Rappin' With Ron."

Moline was asked if he feels he is following in Clinton's footsteps.

"I hope not," the supervisor, a Republican, quickly answered. "I hope not."

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