South Bend, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has uncovered emails between the University Notre Dame and St. Joseph County Health Department officials that show the University using the health department to target a private business, that is completely unaffiliated with the school, under the guise of COVID-19 safety.
The email chain targets Finnies Next Door bar in downtown South Bend.
The emails start with a message from Tim Sexton, Notre Dame’s associate Vice President for Public Affairs. The email is being sent to Dr. Mark Fox, St. Joseph County’s Deputy Health Officer, and Mike Seamon, Notre Dame’s VP of Campus Safety and University Operations. Fox is also a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Theology for the University of Notre Dame.
The initial chain of emails go to Dr. Fox’s Notre Dame email address, that would not be considered public record. However, Dr. Fox forwarded the email along to public emails that were discovered by RNM.
Sexton sent the message below on February 9th, 2021, at 6:13pm.
Dr. Fox/Mike – Good evening. I wanted the two of you to be aware of information we received from our students. Students shared news of an event being planned at Finnies Next Door for tomorrow evening. According to the students, it is being called the “100 days to graduation dance party”. Students have shared frustration of FND’s lack of adherence to mask wearing, social distancing and large numbers gathering.
Additional frustration was communicated around the fact that on-campus, university orchestrated events are limited to no more than 50 people, requiring all COVID safety protocols, yet a local bar can blatantly be out of compliance. I will continue to keep you posted on the information I hear. Tim
About an hour later, Dr. Fox forwards the message along to his boss, St. Joseph County Health Officer, Dr. Robert Einterz, and Mark Espich, the county’s Director of Environmental Health. He includes the following statement.
Anyone wanna go to Finnie’s tomorrow night and issue a fine??
Dr. Einterz responds with the next message.
Yes, that sounds like a terrific idea…many thanks to the gentleman who issued the complaint. Mark E, would you like to join me? If so, what time?
Espich responds with this:
Sounds like a plan, Finnies usually gets hopping after midnight
The entire email chain provided to RNM is below.
Dr. Einterz and Espich went to Finnies the following night. They then went on a media blitz, slamming the bar in the public eye. Dr. Fox tells RNM in an email that he did not go that night. In one article in the South Bend Tribune, Dr. Einterz describes what he claims he saw in the quote below.
“Have you ever had the good fortune of going to Kenya during the great wildebeest migration? The animals hip to hip, nose to nose, grunting and making all sorts of guttural sounds. Perhaps what was lacking was the very distinct odor that one notices in the wildebeest migration. It is a serious matter but that is what it was like,” he said. “The venue was packed on the main floor with probably 20% of people with a mask.”
Rick Ruzkowski, Finnies’ owner, said he was never contacted before the event. If the health officials and Notre Dame were trying to stop the spread of COVID, why did they not say anything prior?
“What bothers me the most is that nobody contacted me prior to the event to ensure that we weren’t going to violate any rules.” Ruszkowski said.
“I wasn’t breaking any Health Department rules. And, I’m not part of Notre Dame. We’re a private business. Why is the health department pushing Notre Dame’s rules on a private business?” Ruszkowski added.
RNM reached out to Dr. Fox and Mr. Sexton. Dr. Fox sent an email several days after publication claiming he called RNM and left a voicemail. RNM does not have a voice mail from Dr. Fox. RNM sent a follow up email requesting he call back.
This information comes after RNM uncovered text messages between Dr. Fox and a local reporter that seem to show a coordinated attack on Finnies between the Health Department and the media in the form of damning news coverage. You can read more about that here.
RNM submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Health Department emails in March and received thousands of emails related to the request earlier this week. Many more stories will be coming out regarding the emails soon.
This article has been updated to include a statement from Dr. Fox claiming he was not at Finnies the night two other members of the health department attended.