Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bug man Stuart still around

But won't say why he left his job

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Former city entomologist Taz Stuart is working with an illustrator on a series of bug books for kids.

BORIS MINKEVICH / FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Former city entomologist Taz Stuart is working with an illustrator on a series of bug books for kids.

Taz Stuart is alive and well and living in Winnipeg -- but unwilling to utter a peep about why he left the city last summer.

The former city entomologist, easily one of Manitoba's most recognizable public servants, suddenly stopped calling the shots for the City of Winnipeg's insect control branch in July.

By the beginning of September, the Saskatchewan native was out of a job. But he stuck around his adopted home of Winnipeg, where he was spotted attending Bomber games, hanging out with friends at a pub and otherwise not at all behaving like a person who was trying to hide from public view.

"Winnipeg will always be my home," the man with the Weird Al Yankovic locks said this week during a brief telephone interview that found him as amiable as ever -- but awkwardly unable to say anything of substance surrounding his departure from his old gig, lest he violate the terms of a non-disclosure agreement.

Since leaving the city, Stuart says he's kept busy spending time with his family and chasing down job leads.

"Currently, I'm just enjoying Winnipeg, as I should," he said.

The bug man is working with an illustrator on a series of children's books about -- you guessed it -- insects. He's looking for a publisher to help develop the series, whose tentative titles include Bugs In The Day, Bugs At Night and Bugs That Don't Belong.

In other words, a man who has spent two decades engaging in chemical and biological warfare against invertebrates now wants to be a children's author.

In the grand scheme of Winnipeg weirdness, this ranks somewhere between Thomas Steen becoming a city councillor and Obby Khan opening a shwarma shop.

Stuart also took time this fall to travel to Regina to watch his beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders win the Grey Cup. So for many Bomber fans, "Winnipeg will always be my home" may ring sort of hollow.

So does Stuart's explanation for leaving the City of Winnipeg after nine years.

"It was time for a change, simple as that," he said.

With all due respect to the bug man, that just isn't the entire story. He was last seen on the job in July but was invisible throughout August, unusual for a city bug-fighter at the height of mosquito-control season.

During the first week of September, the city confirmed he was no longer an employee but wouldn't disclose the circumstances of his departure.

A number of sources in the city allege Stuart's absence followed a single complaint about a voice message he left in July.

One source alleged the message consisted of six words.

The same sources claimed there was a strained relationship between the entomologist and his superiors in the public service -- as well as between Stuart and at least one member of Mayor Sam Katz's staff.

As any longtime city hall observer will tell you, members of this city council don't like to be overshadowed by public servants.

'Winnipeg will always be my home' -- former city entomologist Taz Stuart

As one of the most recognizable faces of the City of Winnipeg -- a man whose profile rivalled that of Katz himself -- it's quite possible Stuart's enormous profile was a point of contention at times.

But there's no way to test that theory when neither he nor the city will discuss the circumstances of a departure they mutually agreed to keep secret.

A month after Stuart left, former fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas was canned, also for reasons the city refused to disclose.

Weeks later, former chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl resigned, also under circumstances that were less than entirely clear at the time.

The three absent officials are all wandering in a special wilderness reserved for high-profile public servants who vanish in a haze of mystery and intrigue.

Sheegl and Douglas may continue to make news, as their departures were tied to very serious events. Stuart may never be heard from again, as his parting does not seem as momentous.

But that doesn't mean Winnipeggers should be deprived of a full explanation for the fall of the bug man, whose presence mattered to a lot of people.

 

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 B1

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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