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Court tightens campaign finance, budget showdown coming, more 

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Court trumps Gessler

The Colorado Court of Appeals has reaffirmed and expanded a lower court's ruling that rejected looser campaign finance rules enacted by Secretary of State Scott Gessler, saying Gessler lacked the authority to make the changes.

In 2012, Gessler had attempted to loosen or eliminate disclosures for political and issue committees and 527 political organizations, and lower penalties for some campaign finance violations. Such rules, based on state law, allow voters to see who is funding campaigns.

The court also struck down a rule that had narrowed the definition of "electioneering communications," allowing clearly political ads to run without oversight.

Gessler is running for governor, seeking the Republican nomination. — JAS

Hall steps in at FAC

The co-founder of local advertising agency Vladimir Jones (formerly PRACO) has been named interim president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Nechie Hall, who opened the agency with her late husband, is the first woman to lead the FAC in its 77-year history.

Chosen by the board of trustees to take the spot recently vacated by Sam Gappmayer, Hall has FAC experience: She served on the board from 1998 to 2004, and was a member of its executive committee, as well as the vice chair of the board and chair of the marketing committee. In addition, Hall has served on numerous other local boards and has worked with companies in transition throughout her career.

She will likely stay on for about six months, until a permanent hire is made. — EA

Budget showdown ahead

A test of solidarity will come Wednesday when Colorado Springs City Council votes on Mayor Steve Bach's vetoes of several line items in the 2014 budget. Council appears to have enough votes for an override.

On Dec. 11, Bach announced his vetoes of Council's attempt to use $565,000 from the city's reserve fund and roughly $400,000 from the Springs Police Department to fund a $1 million gap in Bach's budget proposal for parks watering. Council also created 12 city departments, a change from Bach's five, to make shifting money without Council (and public) input more difficult.

But even a Council veto override of those and other issues might not change a thing, according to City Attorney Chris Melcher, who says the mayor could ignore the overrides, leaving Council to acquiesce or file a lawsuit. — PZ

Callicrate aims to grow

Ranch Foods Direct's 11,000-square-foot space, just off Fillmore Street, has helped Mike Callicrate's company achieve enough success that his beef is in more than 100 local restaurants, multitudes of homes and even school districts. But with retail sales improving at around 25 percent a year, he tells the Indy, it's time to expand.

So Callicrate says he's in talks to purchase the space at 522 S. Wahsatch Ave., with roughly triple the room he enjoys now.

"We've got some ideas," he says. "We want to connect with a culinary school so we can teach a meat-cutting course, you know, and we'll go all the way back to butchering, slaughtering and all that. ... And we would also put a, we're thinking a dining car on the tracks that are just south of it."

Callicrate says he would like to open to the public by May 1. — BC

County changes fire code

El Paso County commissioners approved fire code changes that could make it more expensive to build a home or business, or to rebuild in the burned Black Forest area.

The changes update county standards from being based on the 2003 International Fire Code to being based on the 2009 International Fire Code. The county has been discussing the changes for about three years, but they have been a source of conflict with residents and fire districts.

The Board approved about 98 percent of the new fire code standards, but rejected rules that would have required new homes to install expensive sprinkler systems and water storage cisterns, or to use fireproof construction materials. They also rejected fees to fire districts as an alternative to meeting certain requirements. — JAS

Fewer car trips in Springs

In October, Mountain Metropolitan Transit, which runs the city bus system, had its highest ridership month since 2009, providing 252,738 one-way trips.

That's a 7.3 percent increase from October 2012.

MMT chalks up the spike to increased services, better marketing, and a general trend toward transportation that doesn't involve a car.

A U.S. Public Interest Research Group study released earlier this year showed that "[t]he proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle — either alone or in a carpool — declined in 99 out of 100 of America's most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and the 2007-2011 period averaged in U.S. Census data."

The report named Colorado Springs as No. 8 among the nation's 100 largest cities for a reduction in driving a car to work. — JAS

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