News that Chatham-Kent Energy has opened bidding on city-owned London Hydro with a $245 million offer through a public letter to Mayor Anne-Marie DeCicco-Best (PDF) will touch off concerns in some quarters over the loss of local public ownership or control of an essential utility — Controller Gina Barber unsuccessfully urged Board of Control to reject even considering a sale. But when control of the utility by a public that is generally disinterested in its operations except to quietly receive service without intrusion or undue notice is limited to the election once every four years of a council that in any case directs itself and city staff to act almost strictly as a disinterested stakeholder to an independent London Hydro executive, neither control nor ownership suggests itself as any inherent benefit to the public. The hands-off approach of council and staff to the utility minimizes politicization of its operations, which should be considered a plus for service provision except by the most hard-core of municipal-level nationalists. Would Londoners notice a difference in service or value from another publicly-owned utility, or a privately-owned one for that matter? Not likely, and no suggestions to the contrary are really ever made except for appealing to worn emotional clichés about public ownership. The value to the public, however, of public ownership is usually always only symbolic, and in the case of a utility on whose operations the public has no influence or impact except as a customer, it is strictly so. And when the representation of the symbol is London's council, it's a decidedly weak symbol to begin with.