Local elections usually don't stir up much excitement in Falls Church. Some town officials haven't had opposition at the ballot box in more than a decade. And when opposition has arisen, the issues have been tame and the controversies scarce.

This year is different.

Sheriff John H. Martin, who has worn his badge for 20 years, is locked in a three-way fight to keep his job. And his two opponents, Wayne H. Carley Jr. and Donald F. Smith, haven't been shy about firing a few political arrows in Martin's direction.

Treasurer James E. Durant, 76, who has spent 28 years in his post, is facing competition from 70-year-old political novice Easton C. Farrell.

Only Commissioner of Revenue Claude C. Wells has maintained the tradition: He'll be unopposed in his bid for a third term.

The candidates for the three city positions will be listed on the Nov. 3 ballot in Falls Church along with candidates for state offices and the House of Delegates.

All of the candidates in the local races are listed as independents on the ballot, their jobs categorized as non-partisan in the city of 9,515 residents sandwiched between Arlington and Fairfax counties. Each of the winners will serve four-year terms.

The race for the $20,500-a-year sheriff's job has erupted into one of the most controversial campaigns in the city's recent political history. It's been 12 years since Martin had any opposition. Now, when Martin is at odds with many members of the city council, a college professor and a former CIA operations officer are after his job.

Smith, a teacher at George Mason University, and Carley, a former CIA agent who operates his own consulting business, have been hammering at the complaint that Martin receives a full-time salary for doing a part-time job. They say the sheriff's job should be expanded so the position would be worth its $20,500 annual salary.

Some City Council members have said they would like to eliminate the job altogether. They say the city, which also has a police department, doesn't need a sheriff. Some members were especially miffed when Martin requested a deputy earlier this year.

Martin defends his job, claiming he devotes full-time hours to the sheriff's duties. He also notes that the city charter specifically defines the sheriff's responsibilities, which consist primarily of delivering subpoenas, eviction notices, divorce papers and juvenile summonses.

Until last June, Martin, 60, worked full time as a pipefitter in addition to his role as sheriff. The sheriff's salary was increased from $12,300 to $20,500 by the state about a year ago. Martin said that until then he couldn't support his family on the sheriff's pay alone.

But now Smith and Carley are knocking on doors throughout the city, giving Martin some of the stiffest competition he's had since he took office.

Carley, 49, lives only two houses away from Martin and acknowledged that the two have had some personal disagreements. He said his years in the CIA working with various drug enforcement agencies have qualified him for the law enforcement job.

Smith, 44, based his qualifications on his work at George Mason, where he has taught several criminology-related courses.

In contrast, incumbent treasurer Durant and opponent Farrell are waging a relatively quiet campaign. But Farrell is the first opponent to enter a race against Durant in 12 years.

It is Farrell's first venture into politics after a long career as a consulting engineer for the Defense Department. He operates a private contracting business, which he said he will give up if he wins the $27,300-a-year treasurer's office.

Farrell conceded the treasurer's job "is not something that has a lot of clout," but he said he thinks "we're not getting all we can for the money" being funnelled into the city's treasury.

Durant, who worked at a variety of accounting jobs before his election to the Falls Church treasurer's office 28 years ago, is running on his record and his 99 percent tax collection rate.

Commissioner of Revenue Wells, 67, was first elected to that position eight years ago. He has no opposition for the job, which pays $26,000 annually. Prior to his election, Wells was a sales manager for a real estate company and a one-time owner of a men's clothing store in Fairfax County.