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Winnipeg's new bug boss defends his qualifications

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City hall was in a defensive mode this afternoon as it defended hiring a non-entomologist to run its insect control branch for the first time.

Ken Nawolsky was formally introduced Thursday as the insect control branch superintendent — a position created after former entomologist Taz Stuart left the city in the fall under mysterious circumstances.

"Some have asked, is (Nawolsky) an entomologist," parks manager Dave Domke said as he began the news conference. "Knowledge in the field of entomology is one requirement of the position. Ken has that knowledge and background.

"Ken has the necessary experience and skill to lead the great team of people undertaking this important work at the insect control branch."

Nawolsky’s promotion was leaked Wednesday and it caught some people by surprise as he had spent the previous seven years working in city’s corporate finance department.

Nawolsky has a tough job ahead of him. Controlling the mosquito situation during Winnipeg’s too-short summer is fraught with controversy — it’s a position caught between those who want mosquitoes exterminated at all costs versus those who want the city to follow a more environmentally safe strategy.

Stuart, with his shoulder-length curly hair, had been a media darling — secure in his scientific knowledge and comfortable dealing with the media, public and politicians.

But Nawolsky had spent 10 years in the insect control branch in a variety of positions and has a bachelor’s degree in science, with some study in entomology. He also spent six years at the University of Manitoba as a senior research technician and lecturer — giving him a skill set, he said, that makes him more than qualified to replace a popular entomologist.

Nawolsky acknowledged the popularity of his former boss, but said he’ll bring his own low-key style to running the branch.

"What you see is what you get," Nawolsky said. "I consider myself a normal guy… not any different than anybody else."

Nawolsky defended his abilities, explaining that during his 10 years in the branch, he was involved in several key roles including supervising the mosquito, canker worm and elm bark beetle programs; former entomology technician; and strategic support and program co-coordinator.

"I understand the branch. I have a good working relationship with many of the colleagues who still continue to work there," Nawolsky said during a news conference at the central public works yard on Pacific Avenue, where he’ll be based once he officially takes over the branch March 10.

"I will provide the leadership necessary to the team — and there is a great, excellent team of people working there."

Domke said the position of superintendent was created to replace that of entomologist because it more appropriately described the skill set needed to lead the branch – leadership, team work, communication and public education.

Domke said the branch will have to deal with new varieties and species of mosquitoes and new threats like the emergence of the emerald ash bore.

"We will continue to deliver high quality insect control services," Domke said.

Nawolsky said it’s too early to make any predictions about the coming mosquito season. But he said he will carry out city council’s directive to abandon the use of malathion in fogging and rely more on a biologically-based program of increased larviciding.


Updated on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 5:47 PM CST: Corrects reference to length of Taz Stuart's hair.

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