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Fact check: Did Coun. Kyle Sampson’s business get special treatment from the city?

Coun. Brian Skakun raised concerns about letters of support written by the mayor and city staff for the Best Damn Music Festival, produced by Kyle Sampson Productions.
Best Damn Music Festival
Crews set up the stage for the Best Damn Music Festival on Aug. 12 at the Prince George Exhibition Grounds.

On Aug. 29, city council voted unanimously to have the city prepare a report looking at the process used to determine if the mayor should write letters in support for local businesses, non-profits and elected officials.

Coun. Brian Skakun brought the issue forward, after learning that Kyle Sampson Productions, a business owned by Coun. Kyle Sampson, received letters of support from Mayor Lyn Hall and the city’s manager of economic development in support of obtaining a grant from the provincial BC Fairs, Festivals and Events Recovery Fund. Kyle Sampson Productions ultimately received a $157,000 provincial grant to host The Best Damn Music Festival on Aug. 12-13 this year.

Skakun told the Citizen he was “extremely frustrated” by the “flawed process” the city used to issue those letters. In response, Sampson said he acted in good faith as a local business owner and event promoter, not as a city councillor.

“I would never have taken advantage of my position on council,” Sampson said in an interview with the Citizen in August.

But what actually happened behind the scenes, and who decided the letters should be written? On Aug. 24, the Citizen filed a Freedom of Information request to the city for emails, letters, texts and other documents related to the issue. The Citizen received that information on Oct. 7 at 4:27 p.m.


Mayor Lyn Hall wrote a total of nine letters of support for local organizations applying to the BC Fairs, Festivals and Events Recovery Fund. The letter written on Sept. 28, 2021 by former city manager of economic development Melissa Barcellos, in support of Kyle Sampson Productions, was the only letter of support for the grant program written by a city staff member.

Kyle Sampson Productions was one of two organizations which received two letters of support from the city, and the only one which received two letters in support of one event. Mayor Hall wrote two letters of support for the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, one for the 2022 Canadian Biathlon National Championships and one for the 2022 BC Cross Country Skiing Provincial Championship.

Kyle Sampson Productions was one of only two businesses to receive letters of support from the city for the grant program, and the only business to receive support for a for-profit event. UNLTD Media received a letter from Hall in support of Northern FanCon, which is a non-profit event hosted by the Northern FanCon society.

The Prince George Folkfest Society’s Coldsnap event, P.G. Agricultural and Historical Association’s B.C. Northern Exhibition (BCNE), Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation’s Festival of Trees, 2022 BC Summer Games, Prince George Symphony Orchestra and Downtown Prince George’s Downtown Winterfest and Downtown Summerfest events each received one letter of support from Hall.


The first mention of a possible letter for support for The Best Damn Music Festival occurs in an email on Sept. 15, 2021. Esther Prosser, executive assistant to the mayor, wrote an email to Sampson’s city council email account, discussing the format for the potential letter.

“Hi Kyle, Here’s an example of a support letter that we just did for BCNE,” Prosser wrote. “Some bullet point facts about your event and your work on bringing similar events to the community will be helpful to us in building your letter.”

The same afternoon, Sampson responded to Prosser from his city council email account.

“Hi Esther, Rather than bullet points, I wrote a quick draft,” Sampson wrote. “I fully expect you’ll want to make changes, but I’m hoping this can be a launch pad for you! Please let me know if there is more information you would need from me to write this!”

Then on Sept. 20, 2021 city manager Walter Babicz forwarded an email to Prosser, regarding the number of groups seeking letters of support for their applications. In a response to Babicz later than morning, Prosser said a letter had already been provided to the BCNE, and prepared for Northern FanCon and Coldsnap.

“Councillor Sampson is also looking for a letter in support of his application but Mayor Hall indicated that he wanted to discuss it with you before I prepare it,” she wrote.

Two days later, on Sept. 22, 2021, Hall sent Sampson a letter of support.


Approximately 22 minutes after receiving the letter from Hall, Sampson emailed Barcellos from his private email to ask for a second letter of support from the city’s economic development department.

In that email, Sampson said he intended to attach the second letter to the letter from the mayor in his grant application. The grant submission process only allowed five letters of support, and Sampson had already secured letters from MLA Shirley Bond, Tourism Prince George, the Prince George Chamber of Commerce and Spirit of the North Foundation.

Barcellos responded the following morning to say she had forwarded the request to her direct supervisor, city director of planning and development Deanna Wasnik, and Babicz for direction and approval. She also forwarded Sampson’s email to Wasnik, adding that “most of our conversation was via text.”

No text messages were provided to the Citizen regarding this issue, and Barcellos no longer works at the City of Prince George.

Wasnik forwarded the email chain to Babicz on Sept. 23, 2021, to arrange a time to discuss the issue.

“Councillor Sampson is asking EcDev to provide a letter of support for the The Best Damn Music Festival’s application to the Fairs, Festivals and Events Recovery Fund,” Wasnik wrote. “I am not sure a letter of support from EcDev is entirely appropriate in this case, but I would like to hear your thoughts on this one. We can chat Monday (Sept. 27, 2021) during our 1:1 meeting about this item.”

A handwritten note titled “Walt 1:1” and dated Sept. 27, 2021, which was provided to the Citizen, appears to be Wasnik’s notes from her meeting with Babicz. A check mark appears in a box beside a heading labelled “letter of support for C. Sampson.”

Three point-form notes beneath the heading say “have we provided letters of support for ‘fairs, events, etc.’ grant – if this is typical, we can proceed,” “we do not write letters of support for businesses applying,” and “ex. of letters in the past – Canfor vs. private business owners.”

Sampson emailed Barcellos late on Sept. 27 to ask how the conversation with Babicz went. Barcellos emailed Wasnik the following morning to ask if Babicz approved writing the letter, then replied to Sampson saying she’d been given the go-ahead to write the letter.

Barcellos wrote the letter and forwarded it to Sampson that morning, with the note “Here you go (smiley face emoji) Best of luck in getting the funding.”


In an email on Aug. 15, 2022 – the Monday following The Best Damn Music Festival – city bylaw services assistant Hayley Schmaltz provided a summary of noise complaints about The Best Damn Music Festival and Cariboo Rocks the North (which was held at the CN Centre grounds the weekend before) to city manager of bylaw services Charlotte Peters and other staff members.

Schmaltz documented four complaints about Cariboo Rocks the North and eight about The Best Damn Music Festival.

“Please note that no files were created as the events had noise permits,” Schmaltz wrote. “The noise permits are all attached as well. For The Best Damn Music Festival, you will see two permits. One is the original and one is the revised one.”

The Citizen was provided a copy of the revised noise permit for The Best Damn Music Festival, which shows that on Aug. 12, the day the event started, the noise permit was amended to allow noise from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. both nights.

“Amended due to risk of bad weather. Thunder/lightning – public safety,” a hand-written note on the amended permit says.

The noise permit for Cariboo Rocks the North, which was issued to CN Centre manager Glen Mikkelsen on May 18, permitted noise between 3:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. from Aug. 5 to Aug. 7. Cariboo Rocks the North is hosted as a partnership between CN Centre and the Pacific Western Brewing Company.

One complaint, submitted to the city on Aug. 14 at 12:10 a.m. said the music festivals were “loud as hell.”

“No one can sleep, we can’t open our windows for the cool evening air… all we hear is music (redacted) so damn loud we can’t even hear our own tv,” the complainant wrote.

“The last two weekends have been filled with pounding music that overpowers every other sound in the house,” another complainant wrote. “Last night in particular was very loud and went on well past 11:00 p.m.”

“For the past two weekends there have been back to back loud concerts,” a third person wrote. “Normally, (redacted) – but the music is straight up too loud. Doors closed, windows shut, tv at 100 and I could still hear the country music.”

The complainant added that concerts at Exhibition Park in the past haven’t been as loud, but with these concerts they could hear the music clearly inside their home.

CONCLUSION: It’s complicated.

Kyle Sampson Productions’ The Best Damn Music Festival did receive two letters of support from the city, compared to the one letter the other, non-profit events received. Sampson was allowed to review a letter of support for another organization, and provided feedback about the text of his letter of support from the mayor's office. Kyle Sampson Productions also received a last-minute extension of its noise permit, because of bad weather. Is that because Sampson used his contacts and influence as a city councillor to get a second letter and a noise permit extension? There is nothing in the emails and documents which clearly proves that, but nothing which categorically denies it either.

Regarding the two letters of support, it appears to have come down to a judgment call by Babicz, the city manager, in each case. The city manager is the only City of Prince George employee who answers directly to city council, so Babicz was put in the position of having to approve or deny a letter of support for one of his nine bosses. Was that a factor, consciously or unconsciously, in his decision making? Only he can answer that.

How to fix that process in future will be up to the next city council, when they receive the city administration report back on the issue.