March 13, 2001 11:00 pm

A couple Oregon legislators have raised some good questions about the travel habits of Oregons public utility commissioners. Republican Reps. Tom Butler and Jim Hill report that PUC Chairman Ron Eachus and the two other commissioners have been on the road 26 weeks over the past 20 months.

That sounds excessive, especially since the PUCs primary mission is local to regulate the customer rates and services of the states investor-owned electric, natural gas and telephone utilities.

Travel expenses for the commissioners and PUC staff totaled more than $225,000, although much of that was paid by utility associations, universities or federal agencies.

Reps. Butler of Ontario and Hill of Hillsboro focused much of their criticism on Eachus, who has traveled to Armenia, Brazil, Canada, Hungary, Latvia, Portugal, Romania and Zambia.

Its hard to imagine how Eachuss travel to these countries can do much to help Oregon and its ratepayers. Butler, chairman of the committee that will be drawing up the PUCs 2001-03 budget, said hes concerned about how much time the commissioners have been away from home in view of the West Coasts energy crisis and all the changes that are occurring in telecommunications.

Eachus said much of his travel in Eastern Europe has been at the request of federal officials who are encouraging democracy and economic reform in former Soviet bloc countries.

All this may be well and fine in pursuing a worthwhile international agenda, but why is a state official needed for such work? Couldnt a U.S. government employee do the job just as well?

Several years ago, Oregon had only one public utility commissioner. The globetrotting of the three commissioners raises the question of whether three is too many. Maybe Oregon should return to having only one PUC commissioner.

On goodwill mission

What looks like a unique travel opportunity to a foreign land for Eastern Oregon Universitys 42-member chamber choir really involves a whole lot more than that.

The choir, with its director Peter Wordelman, is traveling to Ecuador later this month to reach out to the people of Puerto Lopez in Planchaloma, a village area in the Andean region. The choir will present workshops to children on topics including music, art, theater, English and physical education.

But thats not all. Accompanying the choir will be La Grande physician Michael McQueen, who will be administering medicine to about 350 children with skin diseases. Funds for the project have been raised through La Grandes Rotary clubs.

Area residents have a chance to celebrate this medical and musical mission at 7:30 p.m. Friday in McKenzie Theatre, when the chamber choir will perform a special concert. Tickets for the fund-raiser are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. Lets provide a good send-off for this group embarking on an important project that will expand the horizons of Ecuadoran children.