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City entomologist's departure a mystery

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Winnipeg’s mosquito executioner-in-chief for the past nine years has turned in the keys to the city’s malathion-fogging trucks.

Taz Stuart, the City of Winnipeg’s entomologist since 2004, has left the position that made him a rare household name among municipal public servants.

"Taz Stuart is no longer an employee of the City of Winnipeg," city spokesman Steve West said Tuesday in a statement, declining to elaborate on any other aspect of the entomologist’s departure.

Stuart has not made a public appearance in a professional capacity in Winnipeg since July, when the city was in the midst of a brief adult-mosquito-control program, its first round of malathion fogging since 2010.

The highly visible entomologist’s unusually low profile in August sparked queries about his apparent absence, which was unusual in the midst of a mosquito-control season. Several senior city officials stated they were unaware of any issue regarding Stuart’s whereabouts.

Stuart could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He started with the City of Winnipeg in September 2004, after spending 12 years fighting bugs with the City of Regina.

Stuart replaced Randy Gadawski, another popular public figure who resigned his own post as Winnipeg’s city entomologist in April 2004, shortly before the start of the spring mosquito-larviciding season.

At the time, Gadawski was the subject of a city audit sparked by concerns raised by some of his staff. Previously, former Winnipeg mayor Susan Thompson famously refused to grant media access to Gadawski, who was eventually allowed to conduct interviews during the Glen Murray administration.

Stuart, hired in the early days of the Sam Katz era in Winnipeg, spoke to media relatively freely under Katz, although access usually was granted only once a week during mosquito season. He also butted heads with elected officials on occasion.

In 2010, an election year when adult mosquitoes emerged in large numbers, Stuart was asked by Katz and former St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves to see whether the city could reduce the size of malathion-spraying buffer zones. The pesticide’s product monogram, it later emerged, only allowed those zones to be reduced to 90 metres from 100.

Stuart was also active on the bedbug-control file. He spoke regularly about the parasites and was part of a group of Canadian academics who published papers arguing in favour of treating the proliferation of bedbugs as a public-health threat, even though the blood-sucking insects are not known to transmit diseases to people.

St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal, chairman of the council committee that oversees insect control, said Tuesday he was neither aware of Stuart’s departure nor the circumstances surrounding the move.

"Obviously, this is an administrative matter," said Vandal.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 8:33 AM CDT: adds fact box

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