This past week, the Avalon City Council held a public hearing to discuss increasing sewer and salt water service fees. No one spoke at the hearing because no one bothered to attend the council meeting.

The issue will come back to the next council meeting, but if you don’t want your rates raised and you don’t show up the council is going to accept your silence as approval. They have to do something. (see my article on the Catalina Islander website or on the front page of the print edition for details.) And, frankly, their many talents don’t include reading minds. If you don’t tell your representatives how you want to be represented, they have to make the best decisions they can without your input.

I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of unhappy Islanders in the weeks ahead who will accuse the council of not listening. But how can they listen, let alone hear, when no one speaks?

In the early 1990s, I was fresh out of journalism school and taking small assignments as a “stringer” (piece worker) for a weekly mainland newspaper. I covered a Southland Planning Commission in a small town. The city issued the proper notices for public hearings. Rarely did anyone bother to show up. Even business owners with applications before the commission usually skipped the meetings. I don’t think anyone ever appealed a commission decision during the year I covered the agency.

One night, a businesswoman with a bitter smile on her face accused the commissioners of trying to sneak something past the public. She was outraged when they and the city attorney insisted that they had conducted the public’s business in public. She stormed out, furious that the world would not accommodate her unless she forced the world to accommodate her.

A few months later, I was asked to substitute for the editor who normally covered that same community’s City Council. The big agenda item that night: the special Business Advisory Committee (which refused to allow journalists to attend their meetings) demanded that the City Council create a special Business commissioner position on the Planning Commission to listen to the business community. Remember, the business community didn’t bother to show up, but they wanted a special representative beholden only to them and not to voters.

The mayor wasn’t impressed with the Business Advisory Committee’s arguments. His own argument: business people can attend public meetings just like everyone else. If they don’t bother to show up, that was their failing—not the city government’s. The idea died.

Twelve or 13 years later, the mayor’s argument has stayed with me. If you want your government officials to do things your way, you have to tell them what you want. Circumstances may force them to say no—if Avalon doesn’t raise the sewer rates, the money to upgrade the system will have to come from the General Fund—but it isn’t possible for anyone to say yes to a request they haven’t heard.

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