Guy Draper, the District government's controversial former protocol chief, is the front-runner for a $41,000-a-year job as executive assistant to City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, informed sources said yesterday.

Two knowledgeable sources said Dixon has decided to offer Draper the job, which essentially is that of Dixon's chief of staff.

Draper became the focus of controversy recently when it was disclosed that he had been paid as acting chief of protocol, a post he reportedly held in an unpaid status.

The pending job offer would be contingent on what happens to Dixon's nomination of John P. Brown, the current executive assistant, as secretary of the council -- a post that carries a $51,000 salary.

Brown's nomination, which has drawn fire from some Council members, is scheduled for confirmation hearings next week.

No hearings would be required for the chief of staff post.

Dixon's desire to fill the chief of staff job and his nomination of Brown for a promotion are at odds with the freeze on hiring and promotions in city government imposed March 1 by Mayor Marion Barry as part of a plan to reduce a projected $172.4 million city budget deficit.

City Council staff is not under the mayor's control and is not directly affected by the freeze.

But council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), while she would not comment directly on the Draper appointment, had sharp criticism for Dixon's attempt to increase the City Council payroll during a time of fiscal crisis.

"How can I go out and explain this ot my constituents?" she asked. "I think the council with its $3 million budget should look for the most mileage we can get out of the few pennies we have."

Winter noted that Brown, who received a raise in January from $34,000 to $41,000, has for five months been filing both the executive assistant and council secretary positions. His formal title has been acting assistant secretary of the council.

"That job [secretary] has only been filled for a total of 14 months since the elected council was formed," Winter said. "That should demonstrate that we don't need to fill it. And the salaries around here are just too high."

The last council secretary, Ruth O. Robinson, left last fall after a dispute with Dixon over staff appointments.

Dixon could not be reached for comment yesterday. Several of his aides confirmed that Draper has been a regular visitor to the council chairman's office in recent weeks.

Draper became involved in a controversy two months ago when it was revealed that he was paid $12,500 while ostensibly working in an unpaid capacity as acting chief of protocol.

The money was paid under a contract for Draper to prepare a report of the necessity for a permanent protocol office. That report, released earlier this month, concluded that such an office is needed.

Draper is well-connected in D.C. political circles, and is a member of the Democratic State Committee. Though he was closely identified with Barry during the protocol episode, working in an office in the mayor's suite, he is also a friend and political ally of Dixon.

Draper has told friends in recent weeks that he has been in financial straits since the protocol contrast ran out. He would not comment yesterday of the job offer.