He wants to be where the action is

According to Mayor John Moser of Stephenville, Texas, it would be a slight

exaggeration to say that the best way to find him is to look on the town's

busiest street corner. But only a slight exaggeration.

He has a discussion forum on the World Wide Web — not to campaign, but to

be where people are and to learn what's going on.

"I can only be one place at a time, and even then I can look right at

something and not see it," Moser said. "So people are figuratively tapping

on my shoulder and saying, "What about this?'"

He describes it as active listening, in which he makes himself available

to people in the community, much as he does as a member of the Stephenville

Chamber of Commerce and the local chapters of the American Legion and Veterans

of Foreign Wars.

Moser grew up in the town of 15,000, 100 miles southwest of Dallas,

but spent 30 years in the Army, returning to the town when he retired in

1994. During his years in the Army, Moser learned that "the only thing that

terrifies me is not knowing what's going on."

He works with city staff members, of course, to explore issues, but

he also seeks independent views. "I just want to be sure I am not limiting

my source of information toa few sources at City Hall."

Having become interested in computers nearly 20 years ago (he speaks

"fluent DOS"), Moser enjoys surfing the Web and even takes part on eBay,

as both a buyer and a seller. He is also a longtime amateur ham radio operator,

which might be described as an early version of the Internet.

Like Moser, many of the town's residents are retired. But as the county

seat for Erath County and home to Tarleton State University, part of the

Texas A&M System, Stephenville also has an Internet-savvy population.

So,

shortly after being elected in 1998, Moser worked with Our-Town Internet

Service to set up the Mayor's Corner, where residents could post questions

or comments to which either Moser or others could reply.

Like many online forums, the Mayor's Corner maintains "threaded" discussions,

so a first-time visitor can read the full sequence of questions and answers

on any current or past topic.

As with any civic organization, there is a small group of core participants.

But Moser knows there are a number of "passive" listeners who read the site

but never post messages, including some "citizens of substance," he said.

A week might pass with no messages, but at times he will receive a handful

a day for several days running when there's a "hot button." In April, for

example, a question about a grayish tint to the town's drinking water spurred

nine responses in two days from Moser and other residents.

Moser checks the Web site at least once a day, usually at night because

that's when he has the time. But he does not see it as an onerous chore,

and he tries to respond to every pertinent message.

On occasion, though, someone will post an abusive or otherwise inappropriate

message, which Moser will ignore. In some cases, someone at Our-Town, which

maintains the site, will remove especially offensive messages. But that

is done at their discretion — Moser does not have or want that ability.

Part of the problem is that forum participants have the option of remaining

anonymous. "It tends to encourage more openness and frankness," Moser said.

Although it comes with annoyances, "I am willing to accept that downside

in exchange for achieving the two-way access," he said.

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