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Gazette parent faces possible sale


Freedom creditors allowed to look for buyers

Freedom Communications Holdings Inc., owner of the Gazette, might be moving closer to selling all or parts of the company after a Delaware bankruptcy court last week allowed an unsecured creditors committee to test the waters for buyers.

Freedom had proposed its unsecured creditors accept pennies on the dollar as payment for millions owed to them. The court ruled creditors can retain an agent to "see if we could solicit interest in Freedom from other sources," says committee member Daniel Callahan, an attorney representing Orange County Register carriers who won a $28.9 million judgment for back pay and benefits that Freedom hasn't paid.

Callahan says the agent will try to determine whether the company would bring a higher price whether sold as a whole or "split up newspaper by newspaper, broadcast station by broadcast station." Freedom's holdings include eight TV stations, 33 daily and 70-plus weekly papers.

"That effort is going in earnest to see if we can do better than the proposed plan," Callahan says. "It's something I think will generate a lot of interest in the business community, because many people may want to come in and buy Freedom in its entirety or in pieces. Sometimes a company is worth more when split up."

Freedom has proposed wiping out more than $300 million in debt through the bankruptcy, with the Hoiles family getting 2 percent of the company and lenders dividing 98 percent. Callahan says the creditors committee must have some sense of buyers' interest by mid-February, when a hearing is slated on Freedom's reorganization plan.

Meanwhile, Gazette managing editor Larry Ryckman told staffers Monday that he was leaving by year's end due to economic conditions at the company. — PZ

Stormwater down the drain

After much debate, City Council decided Tuesday to end Stormwater Enterprise fees at the end of 2009. While many on Council still maintain that Measure 300, approved by voters in November, does not legally put an end to Stormwater fees, the group acknowledges it was the voters' will to end the enterprise.

Council had planned to continue Stormwater for two years to complete crucial flood-control projects. But Councilor Bernie Herpin announced a change of heart to support ending the enterprise immediately, and that tilted the vote. Using funds from past collections, Stormwater will finish projects already in progress. — JAS

Poetic injustice at CSS?

Yes, Jane Hilberry says, her poetry sometimes touches on subjects like sex and longing: "Art is not PG," the Colorado College English professor explains.

But that subject matter, Hilberry contends, along with a nude figure gracing the cover of her book Body Painting, should not have disqualified her from being keynote speaker for a February literary conference at the Colorado Springs School.

"It very much would be keyed to the youngest [member of the audience]," Hilberry says of the talk she planned for middle-school and older students.

Hilberry's invitation to speak, however, was withdrawn after school administrators read Hilberry's poems, along with reviews describing her work as "sensuous."

"The invitation came out ahead of the decision," says head of school Kevin Reel. "That was clumsy."

Hilberry took her story to local media last week, questioning whether the decision amounted to censorship. Reel says feedback has been largely supportive, and he hopes Hilberry accepts an invitation to speak to an "age-appropriate" audience.

Hilberry, who will be doing two poetry readings with her father this week in Colorado Springs (see "7 Days to Live," p. 24), counters that such caution runs counter to artistic expression. — AL

No restrictions on vaccine

After weeks of the H1N1 flu vaccine being in short supply and restricted to high-risk individuals, county health officials now are encouraging anyone 6 months or older to be vaccinated.

El Paso County's health department conducted its last planned vaccination clinic Dec. 5. But many pharmacies are stocking it now, and a mobile clinic will visit Yoder on Dec. 14 and Peyton on Dec. 21. Check for links with information on clinic locations. — AL

Memorial's budget OK'd

Memorial Health System's $632.3 million budget won unanimous approval Tuesday from City Council with no discussion. The total amounts to about 10 percent more than Memorial expects to spend this year, with much of the difference going to increases in salaries and wages ($14.5 million) and benefits ($5.4 million), according to budget documents. Rising contract costs add $12 million more.

The health system saved some money by refinancing high-interest loans, reducing 2010 interest expense by at least $22 million.

Memorial projects $44.6 million in charity care next year, compared to $38.6 million this year. It also forecasts a 10 percent rise in uncollectible accounts to $57.6 million.

The city's other large enterprise, Colorado Springs Utilities, had its budget approval delayed by Council. Under the original proposal, the typical residential customer would see rates increase by about $4 a month. Utilities' budget contains $592,000 for employee bonuses, rather than the $1.5 million originally proposed to offset eliminating performance raises. — PZ

Clerk to stay open Fridays

Among signs of a recovering economy: Jobless numbers are said to be stabilizing, the stock market is climbing, and once again you can renew your car registration on Fridays in El Paso County. Clerk Bob Balink announced his department's three offices will reopen on Fridays within the next couple weeks.

The Centennial Hall office at 200 S. Cascade Ave. and the Powers Boulevard branch (southeast of the Powers-Airport Road intersection) will be open Dec. 11, while the Chapel Hills branch will be open Fridays after moving Dec. 14 to a new location, 8830 N. Union Blvd.

Many El Paso County offices have been closed on Fridays as a way to save on utility costs. Balink attributes the resumption of Friday workdays to fewer unexpected, disruptive expenses. — AL

Taxes, fees on '10 ballot

Colorado voters likely will get a shot at taxes, fees and property tax laws when they vote on two measures that appear destined for the 2010 ballot after the Secretary of State's Office ruled both had sufficient petition signatures.

Proposition 101 calls for rolling back motor vehicle fees, income taxes and telecommunication charges. Proponents gathered 142,680 signatures, which the state determined through a random sample was adequate to meet the requirement of 76,047 valid signatures of registered voters.

Amendment 60 would seek to restrict property taxes. Backers submitted 139,960 signatures, and a random sample found enough were valid. Official certifications for the ballot will come later. — PZ

Compiled by Anthony Lane, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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