SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In a bipartisan 6-3 vote, the St. Joseph County Council officially eliminated the Deputy Health Officer position from the St. Joseph County Department of Health. Democrat Bryan Tanner, District H, joined the 5 republican members in eliminating Dr. Mark Fox’s position.
On June 21st, the Board of Health voted to eliminate Dr. Fox’s position as part of a new organizational chart. The meeting involved updating job titles and descriptions. However, the only position to be eliminated was the Deputy Health Officer. On Tuesday, the County Council approved of the Board’s recommendation to eliminate the disgraced public health official.
Dr. Fox was at the forefront of weaponizing and politicizing the Department of Health against conservatives and conservative owned businesses along with former DoH head, Dr. Robert Einterz, who resigned earlier this year. Dr. Diana Purushotham was approved by the Board of Health and County Council to become the new Health Officer earlier last month. She will be working in a full-time role, unlike Dr. Einterz, and will more than likely be getting paid more because of that. Getting rid of Fox’s role will help pay for her increased salary. Einterz’ contract was for 30 hours per week at a salary of approximately $146,000. Fox’s contract was for 10 hours per week at a salary of more than $50,000 per year.
ATTACKING CONSERVATIVE BUSINESSES
In May of 2021, REAL News Michiana uncovered text messages between local reporters and Dr. Fox during COVID showing what appears to be a coordinated attack of a South Bend business that happens to be owned by a vocal conservative. The story, along with connected investigations, led to a massive lawsuit against the county.
In 2021, RNM submitted a public records request for phone records, text messages and emails from the leadership of the health department. Texts were from February 8th, 2021, to February 13th, 2021, and discussed Finnies Next Door Sports Bar in South Bend.
In one exchange, WSBT reporter Selina Guevara sends a message to Dr. Fox stating “Did the party at Finnies ever come to fruition?”
Dr. Fox responds by saying, “Yes, something like 350 people.”
The messages show the WSBT reporter and the health department had conversations about an “event” scheduled at Finnies, prior to the event ever happening. They then sat on that information, without announcing any concern prior about the event to the public or the business itself. And, instead, appear to have coordinated damning news coverage of the conservative owned business.
“Never. They never reached out to me to say anything before it happened. You would think if they’re trying to limit the spread, they would have said something and tried to work with me.” Rick Ruszkowski, Finnies owner, said.
Several days after the messages, Guevara published a story slamming Finnies. The article starts with the following:
A South Bend bar is in trouble with St. Joseph County health officials.It’s accused of hosting a large party last week marketed as a way to celebrate being 100 days away from Notre Dame graduation.The county says it’s working on an abatement order at Finnies Next Door for violating the governor’s orders and not filing an event safety plan, among other violations.
RNM spoke to Guevara on the phone before publishing the story.
RNM: “I found some text messages between you and Dr. Fox.”
Guevara: “Okay.”RNM: “It obviously appears that you knew this party was going to happen. You did not reach out to Finnies. And, instead, just reached out to the health department. And, in a targeted fashion, went after Finnies in your story on the 17th.”
Guevara: “I’m going to have to get back to you and refer any questions you may have to our News Director.”
RNM: “So, you didn’t collude with the health department in this coverage?”
Guevara: “I don’t have a comment on that right now. And, I am really busy. I have to go. I’m sorry.”
It turns out, Dr. Fox also works for Notre Dame and appeared to be doing the bidding of the university by attacking Finnies for not following Notre Dame’s COVID restrictions, despite not being part of the University itself.
The emails start with a message from Notre Dame’s associate Vice President for Public Affairs, Tim Sexton. The email was sent to St. Joseph County’s Deputy Health Officer, Dr. Mark Fox who is also a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Theology for the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s VP of Campus Safety and University Operations, Mike Seamon, is also included in the email chain.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, asking if the Health Department wants to issue fines to Finnies without even doing an investigation.
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
Dr. Einterz and Espich went to Finnies the following night. Health Department officials then went on a media blitz, slamming the bar in the public eye. 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.”
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