Five men are vying to become Alexandria's next sheriff in a close race that has failed to attract much public interest, despite an investigation last winter into the department's financial practices. The probe resulted in the retirement of the city's long-time sheriff.

The investigation, conducted by Claude M. Hilton, a former Arlington County Commonwealth's Attorney, concluded that the department had kept "inadequate" financial records of employees, sick leave, vacation time, and car mileage. Following the investigation, Raymond E. Fogle, who had been sheriff since 1964, retired.

The five candidates, a Democrat, a Republican and three independents, vary more in age and personal background than they do on the issues. Three of the candidates are former policemen, two in Alexandria and one in the District of Columbia.

The candidates are: Patrick J. Holland, 30, (D); Michael E. Norris, 28, (R); Robert E. Evans, 55 (I); Walter T. McDonald, 51, (I); and Robert D. O'Hern, 54, (I).

Most of the candidates say they consider the investigation into the financial procedures of the office to be closed, but McDonald, a restaurant owner and fomer Washington policeman, says that as sheriff he will re-open the case, with or without the help of state officials.

"Antiquated and irregular if not illegal management procedures have combined to create a disgraceful situation in the sheriff's office," McDonald said.

O'Hern, who has retired after 20 years in the Air Force and eight with the Central Intelligence Agency, has called for the appointment of the sheriff in Alexandria as a solution to what he says are serious patronage problems in the office.

The other candidates have not given much importance to the issue, but they say that such a change would require an amendment to the Virginia State Constitution, a long and tedious process. O'Hern's reply is that the matter can be settled with a local referendum.

The Alexandria sheriffs office is responsible for operating the city jail, delivering court papers (now averaging more than 3,000 a month) and insuring security in the courtrooms. Among the most unpleasant task the department must perform is the eviction of people from their homes when ordered to do so b by the courts or the city.

All five candidatess have called for more efficient operation of the office, especially with regard to the delivery of court papers. Norris, who says that 20 per cent of writs are not now being served, has called for theestablishment of a service to deliver the documents in the evenings as well as during the day.

Another common issue among the five candidates is establishment of a citizens advisory panel to aid the sheriff by offering suggestions and criticism. All candidates also agree on the need to expand the work-release programs, especially for juveniles.

This last point is emphasized by Evans, a communications and records supervisor at City Hall, who says he gave a prisioner a job for 11 months under work release. Evans said the former prisoner has gone back home to North Carolina and now has his own business.

Several of the candidates, notably Holland, O'Hern, and McDonald, have called for the e e establishment of a minimum-security facility to relieve esome of the overcrowding at the city jail. Although 70 prisoners were shifted to other facilities last winter, the facility remains filled to capacity.

"Eventually we're going to have to incur a substantial cost to either renovate the present jail or build a new facility in Alexandria," said Holland.

O'Hern has suggested that the northern Virginia jurisdictions agree on a plan to use the Lorton jail to house minor offenders.