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Better Late Than Sooner

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A Burke, Va., elementary-school student has learned that you can, indeed, fight City Hall--or, in his case, the Oklahoma State Department of Tourism.

Last week, Gov. Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma sent a letter to Matthew Hatley apologizing for the state tourism agency's refusal to send the 5th grader brochures and maps for a class project. Mr. Bellmon noted that the local uproar that followed a Tulsa newspaper's report on the agency's decision would result in the development of "new material to respond specifically to requests such as yours.''

"You are a true friend of Oklahoma to call this matter to our attention so we can make improvements,'' the Governor wrote. "I wish more citizens would let us know when government goofs.''

According to Cynthia Hatley, Matthew's mother, the chain of events began last month when her son sent a letter to the state agency requesting materials for his project. A few days later, he received a form letter saying that the state could not send the material because of budget cuts.

"The tone of the letter was very degrading,'' Ms. Hatley said. "The gist of it was, because you're just a student, you aren't worth the effort.''

Ms. Hatley, an Oklahoma native, said her son's disappointment caused her to write letters of complaint to the tourism agency, Governor Bellmon, and the Tulsa Tribune.

To her surprise, she said, the newspaper ran an article about her son's experience on the front page of its business section. The Governor, it seems, had said earlier that an expansion of efforts to promote tourism would be one of his key efforts for the year.

The response to the newspaper's article, she said, was "remarkable.'' As of last week, the family had been interviewed by 23 reporters and had appeared on the CBS television program "The Morning Show.'' Matthew, she added, had received "boxes and boxes'' of information on the Sooner State from government offices, businessmen, and private citizens.

Early last week, Matthew and his mother had lunch with Lieut. Gov. Bob Kerr, who was on business in nearby Washington. Later in the week, an Oklahoma City radio station paid the cost of their air fare and lodging for a trip to Oklahoma for a meeting with the Governor, a tour of the capitol, and a surprise visit with the University of Oklahoma football team.

"I never thought the response would even come close to this,'' said Matthew, whose project now runs 56 pages. His early experience with the wiles and ways of state government may help him in his chosen career: He says he hopes to become the Governor of either Oklahoma or Virginia and, eventually, the President of the United States. --TM

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