Would Laurel residents be better off if their city was no longer part of Prince George's County?
Some city officials believe yes.
City Councilman Robert Stahley suggested at a Feb. 3 council workshop that a nonbinding question be placed on the March 21 city ballot, asking residents whether they would like to secede from Prince George's County and join Anne Arundel County.
Mr. Stahley said the idea was defeated on a 4-1 vote after the city attorney said the charter would not allow such a question to be placed on the ballot. But the idea of Laurel seceding from Prince George's County will not go away so easily.
"I have yet to find anybody who can give me a reason it would be a bad idea," Mr. Stahley said.
Laurel Mayor Joe Robison has himself floated the idea of Laurel seceding from Prince George's County to become an independent city, with a status similar to that of Baltimore.
Mr. Robison noted that Laurel and Prince George's County have had periodic run-ins since the city was founded in 1870. In 1878, he said, the city sued the county over a road tax -- and won.
This time, the impetus for a move away from Prince George's County could come from the Washington Redskins' proposed move into Anne Arundel.
The proposed stadium site is in Anne Arundel County, just over the county line from the city of Laurel. Mr. Stahley said Laurel might be in a better position to help shape stadium plans if it were represented by Anne Arundel County's elected officials.
"The Redskins' coming has kind of opened peoples' eyes" once again to the idea of Laurel divorcing itself from Prince George's County, Mayor Robison said.
Among incentives cited by officials for Laurel to strike out on its own are: dissatisfaction with Prince George's County schools; unhappiness with rates charged by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which provides water and sewer service to the city; irritation with the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, which regulates park land in Prince George's and Montgomery counties; and a desire to have more influence over the proposed Redskins stadium.
Mayor Robison said many Laurel residents are unhappy with Prince George's County schools.
"I feel that our school system could be done locally a lot better," he said.
Laurel City Council member Faith C. Calhoun said she also has heard "a whole lot of upset" over schools and rates charged by the sanitary commission.
Another factor, Mr. Robison said, is that 100,000 people have a Laurel address, but only 20,000 live in the city. Those who have a Laurel street address but live outside the city limits are scattered through Prince George's, Howard, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties, and many of them feel they have been ignored politically by those jurisdictions.
The state legislature would have to approve any move for Laurel to leave Prince George's County, said Jim Peck, associate director for research with the Maryland Municipal League. As a practical matter, he said, the move would require the approval of both the Prince George's and Anne Arundel legislative delegations.
Mr. Peck said he does not know of any cases where such a change has been made. However, the city of Takoma Park, which straddles Montgomery and Prince George's counties, has spent years debating a boundary change to place the city wholly within one jurisdiction.
Anne Arundel County Councilman David G. Boschert downplayed the possibility of Laurel shifting counties. He said Prince George's County officials would probably "look dimly" on the prospect.
Although he will not seek re-election to the Laurel city council in March, Mr. Stahley said he would continue talking to people about the merits of Laurel leaving Prince George's County.
After all, he said, "If you asked people five or 10 years ago what the chances are of Lithuania leaving the Soviet Union, they'd have said you were crazy."