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Longtime member to leave utility panel

The Oregon Public Utility Commission's longest-serving member, Joan Smith, has announced she's retiring as of May 1.

Though Smith wanted to continue, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski reportedly wanted to put his own stamp on the commission, which many utility watchdog organizations believe is weighted against consumers.

'He didn't kick me off exactly, but he didn't ask me to stay either,' Smith said of the governor.

Kulongoski is required to nominate a Republican as her successor, which will be subject to Oregon Senate approval. The other two commissioners, chairman Roy Hemmingway and Lee Beyer, are Democrats.

Smith, 60, says she plans to continue working in the utility field and is talking with a San Francisco-based company about consulting work.

She has become a leader in telecommunications policy, serving on the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council in the 1990s and as chairwoman of the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners Committee on Telecommunications. She joined the commission in 1990 and served as chair from 1995 to 1997.

Public utility backers submit signatures

Multnomah County voters are a step closer to deciding if they want sale-bound Portland General Electric under public control.

Backers of a people's utility district have submitted 9,321 signatures to the county's elections office, according to elections officials who tallied the names Wednesday. The initiative's backers, the Oregon Public Power Coalition, celebrated the accomplishment with some street theater in front of PGE's offices. An actor dressed as the coalition's mascot, Larry the Illuminary, was scheduled to debate PGE's Larry the Lightbulb, but the latter was a no-show. Enron Corp. owns PGE.

If at least 7,219 signatures are valid, the initiative will be placed on the Sept. 16 ballot. The people's utility district effort will be dropped if the city of Portland succeeds in buying the utility from bankrupt Enron.

Industry group selects Tribune as best nondaily

The Portland Tribune has been named the nation's best nondaily newspaper by the Inland Press Foundation, a nationwide industry association based in Des Plaines, Ill.

The Tribune finished first in the competition among nondaily newspapers with 10,000 or more circulation. The award recognized the Tribune for its ability to attract readership and report on its community as well as for the quality of its writing, photography and design.

The judges specifically noted 'The Secret Watchers,' a series about past political-intelligence gathering by the Portland Police Bureau. The Tribune offered readers a major investigative and community-service effort 'while never losing sight of local news content. Excellent comprehensive work,' the judges said.

Ninety newspapers from 32 states competed in the contest.

Ñ Nevill Eschen, Mary Bellotti