In a folksy speech that contained references to "Alice in Wonderland," Proposition 13 and economic development, Arlington County Manager W. Vernon Ford told a dinner meeting of the Arlington Committee of 100 last week that in order to cope with change the county must formulate some goals.

Ford, 47, who has been Arlington County manager for nearly three years, began and ended his speech by reading an excerpt from "Alice in Wonderland." In it, the Cheshire cat asks Alice where she's going and she answers that she doesn't know.

Comparing Arlington to Alice, Ford said, "Change: Few of us welocme it, but change is inevitable in Arlington."

in a speaking style reminiscent of the seventh grade teacher he once was, Ford ticked off a list of changes affecting Arlington, which included Metro, Arlington's cable television network scheduled to begin operation next month and the county's steadily increasing population of ethnic minorities.

"Arlington's principal asset is location," Ford said. "We're at the center of the world's capital and we've got a new way to draw us together: Metro. Other folks (in Prince George's and Fairfax counties) are going out very agressively" to recruit new business. "They've got cheap land in big parcels. We've got expensive land in little parcels. We've got to create an incentive to do business, otherwise it's Proposition 13 and other disasters.

"The community needs a commitment. We can't be static. We've got to think about what is the role of Arlington. Look at the Arlington in Transition seminar."

Last year the county sponsored a well-attended, day-long workshop featuring architects, planners, businessmen and county officials. A similar seminar planned for April was canceled due to lack of interest.

A plain-spoken man witha dry sense of humor, Ford generally maintains a low-profile. "I think this is the first time we've had a county manager address us on an occasion other than his retirement," said Committee of 100 Chairman Larry Suiters in his introduction.

At the chicken dinner before the speech, County Board candidates Joseph N. Pelton and Stephen H. Detwiler, both of whom wore large name tags, mingled with the audience and remained standing long after the meal was served. The two were not getting in any last-minute handshaking but waiting for an extra table to be set up and an extra chicken to be cooked to accommodate the larger than expected crowd.

Pelton and Detwiler sat with each other and with committee officers Barnard Joy and Warren Clardy.

"At first it was really uncomfortable," Clardy said, "because they didn't know what to talk about so then we started talking about Arlington history and everybody loosened up."