Coby Mach fights back, takes on Journal Star
It is on.
A battle has broken out between the local newspaper and a prominent local radio talk show host.While “Drive Time Lincoln” and LIBA head Coby Mach started out by saying he wasn’t trying to “pick a fight with a guy who buys ink by the barrel,” he didn’t hold back in responding to the Journal Star’s recent story taking him to task for pulling down a six-figure salary while lobbying government to shrink. Not surprisingly, Mach took to the airwaves to fight back, saying the story was a “hit piece” riddled with errors and the reporter refused to meet with LIBA officials to get more information before going to print.
The Journal Star wrote about how Mach earns $106,000 as head of the Lincoln Independent Business Association and got big raises during the recession – even while lobbying governmental entities to freeze salaries, cut benefits and cut positions.
Mach said in response to the story, LIBA board Chairman Tim Cox sent a letter their 1,075 members saying the story contained more fiction than fact, and that Mach got a bump in pay – to nearly $116,000 in 2009 — because LIBA was often operating with only two employees that year. Mach’s salary dropped back down to nearly $107,000 last year.
Cox said the LIBA board of directors set financial and performance benchmarks and Mach was “paid accordingly” for hitting them. He said the job has no pension or retirement benefits and a “bare-bones” insurance option.
Mach was particularly perturbed by the fact that the paper went to Democratic Party state chairman Vic Covalt for comments in the story. Covalt claimed Mach’s job was a part-time job and that LIBA “pays no taxes.”
LIBA says Covalt was wrong on both counts: LIBA does pay payroll taxes and pays rent on a building whose owner pays property taxes, and Mach is required to work at least 40 hours a week and typically works 50 to 60 hours weekly. Mach said the Journal Star reporter, Nancy Hicks, was shown documents proving that, but still printed Covalt’s allegation.
Mach said he puts in a lot of hours – losing “precious time with his wife and two daughters – often arriving in the office by 7 a.m. and returning at 6 p.m., after doing his “Drive Time Lincoln” radio show. He said he attends many night meetings and is “in the office prior to church on Sunday mornings.”
“It’s a great job, don’t get me wrong,” Mach said. “I love it.”
Mach said, “We all have the ability to work harder… (to) work two or three jobs to make ends meet.”
He said the story implied there was some kind of salary threshold at which people are not allowed to have a voice in local politics.
Mach said LIBA invited Hicks to come in and meet with the chairman of the LIBA board and LIBA accountants to explain issues in the story, but she declined, saying, “My bosses are concerned that you’ll break the story on Drive Time Lincoln.”
“Who cares about facts? Or getting the story right?” Mach said. “It’s all about scooping Drive Time Lincoln.”
Mach said he invited Hicks to join him on his radio show the day the story came out, but she declined. (That’s no surprise: The paper would never let me do the show either when I worked there.)
Mach repeatedly questioned why Hicks went to Covalt for comment – asking why the head of the Democratic Party would be asked to weigh in on his salary rather than the head of another business organization or city employees or even the mayor.
Mach said apparently, anyone who wants to have a voice at city hall must “start with an email to Nancy Hicks” first.
“I’ve done nothing wrong, nothing illegal… except become a very influential voice from a nonprofit organization,” he said.
Hicks said she could not comment on Mach’s rebuttal, and other editors were out of the office Friday and unavailable to comment.
However, Mach skirted the central issue raised by the story: While he has lobbying government to keep salaries lean and cut benefits and jobs and urging the government to pay more like the private sector, he was earning a tidy six-figure salary leading that lobbying group.
I was surprised to read that Mach makes six figures, because a few years ago, when the City Council was debating whether to hire a researcher, Mach, a chamber representative and I were sitting in the back of the room and we all were kind of shocked when a councilman mentioned that the person should make about $80,000 a year. Mach jokingly said he would apply for the job if it paid that much.
I guess it really was a joke.
As to Mach’s questioning why Hicks went to Covalt – I think the answer is obvious. Over the half-dozen years I covered city hall, it was very clear that Mach and LIBA and Drive Time Lincoln were a thorn in the mayor’s side. More than once, a mayoral aide tried to get me to write a hit piece on Mach.
They felt it was a conflict of interest for Mach to head up LIBA and also host a radio show – plus occasionally act like a reporter by attending press conferences.
It is a weird dynamic: Coby lobbies for LIBA, but also sometimes puts on his journalist hat. It’d be like Rush Limbaugh also having a job as the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and attending White House press conferences, too.
That’s why I’d bet this story was fed to the paper by a Democratic operative (perhaps Covalt himself) or a member of the mayor’s office. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.