Council president running on ability to build consensus

When you ask Fred Smalls how long he's served on the Laurel City Council, don't be surprised if it takes him a moment.

"I work hard for the residents of this city," said Smalls, 63, the council president who was first elected in 2002. "I've committed myself to being caring and responsive. I pride myself on being able to get the job done."

Smalls, currently serving his third term as council president, will seek his 13th and 14th years on the council in the Nov. 5 election when he and fellow Ward 2 incumbent Donna Crary battle challenger Thomas Matthews for two seats. Smalls and Crary, along with the other three incumbents, are running in support of each other. Matthews is running on the same ticket as the challengers in the at-large and Ward 1 races.

Smalls, who works as the deputy secretary of state for administration, finance and human resources at the Maryland secretary of state's office in Annapolis, said his council experience has helped him learn how to build consensus, which he says is vital to serving.

"I'm a firm believer nothing can get done without a consensus," Smalls said. "That's the only way anything can get done."

It's that belief that has led Smalls to run as part of Team Laurel.

"In terms of working together, we have built a consensus where we listen to one another. We don't agree all of the time at all, but we are all working for the common good," he said.

Smalls added that the collective experience of the incumbents has "paid off in a number of ways," and that one of the campaign issues he, and the group, will harp on is lowering the property tax rate.

"We as a team have come together and said we are going to make reducing property taxes a priority," Smalls said. "That comes directly from listening to residents who have come to city hall, who have called, who have approached me in the grocery store."

Earlier this year, the council voted unanimously to keep the property tax rate at 71 cents per $100 of assessed evaluation for a sixth year in a row.

In his home Ward 2, Smalls said residents have expressed concern about Laurel Lakes, particularly the upkeep and health of the ecosystem.

According to Smalls, Prince George's County controls the water in the lakes, while the city is responsible for upkeep of the grounds.

Smalls said he wants to advocate for the county to improve the water by dredging and other measures and will push for the city to install cameras around the lake grounds to improve safety.

"We've been working with the county for years to take care of sustainability issues," Smalls said.

Segundo Mir, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Laurel, said Smalls is "a great man" who has helped him work with the Hispanic community in Laurel.

"He is very friendly and very focused on the needs of the people," Mir said. "I admire him because he has a great personality."

In addition to serving on the City Council, Smalls also currently serves as president of the board of directors for Laurel Regional Hospital and on the board of Dimensions Healthcare Systems, which owns the hospital.

This is part of a series of profiles on candidates in this year's City Council elections.

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