W. Vernon Ford, the Arlington county manager fired last year by the county's ruling Republican majority, sued the county yesterday for $250,000 in retirement benefits that he claims the County Board wrongfully denied him.

The suit, filed in Arlington Circuit Court, also asks for $500,000 in punitive damages and a written statement from the County Board explaining the reasons for "its dissatisfaction" with Ford's performance as head of the county government.

The lawsuit climaxes a bitter feud between Ford and the board, in particular the three Republican board members who voted last August to dismiss him from his $59,000-a-year job. The suit names all five board members, including two Democrats, and members of the county's retirement board as defendants.

The firing of Ford, a 22-year-veteran of county goverment, became a hot political topic in Arlington last year as the minority Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of taking the action behind closed doors without public debate. The Republicans, in turn, claimed that the Democrats had misrepresented their role in Ford's departure.

Ford, 51, stung by the board's decision to deny him certain retirement benefits, accused the Republicans of firing him for political reasons and for doing so in an irregular way. He claimed that the county traditionally waived early retirement penalties for those who had worked as long as he had and retired before the age of 60.

"If the manager is treated the way I've been treated, what does that say for the board and the way they would treat another employe?" Ford asked in an interview last December.

In the suit Ford charged that the board's decision not to grant him the benefits he sought would cost him $700 a month -- or approximately $250,000 over his lifetime.

He further accused Board Chairman Stephen H. Detwiler with failing to honor a promise to grant full pension benefits in return for Ford's agreement to relinquish his rights to a public hearing on the reasons for his dismissal.

Detwiler could not be reached for comment yesterday although he had confirmed Monday that the matter had been discussed by the board during an executive session Saturday. Board members had been given advance notice of the suit.