Alexandria police Chief Charles T. Strobel has been named the city's first director of public safety, with authority over, among others, the often outspoken fire chief, Charles Rule.

"I think the government has a right to do these things," Rule said yesterday of last week's decision by City Manager Douglas Harman. "But I think the way it was handled was shabby. . . . It makes for very poor employe relations."

Rule, who answered directly to Harman in the past, said he was not consulted in advance about the matter.

Rule said, however, that a two-hour meeting with Strobel yesterday to define their new working relationship was "very positive."

Under the new arrangement, Strobel will retain his $62,000-a-year position as police chief.

Harman said Strobel's key responsibilities will be to streamline police and fire operations, making them more efficient while cutting costs. He denied the decision was related to outspokenness in the past by Rule.

During yesterday's meeting the two chiefs discussed setting up a task force to study ways some of the departments' operations could be consolidated. Strobel said he has no immediate plans for changes.

Rule, who was recruited as chief by Harman seven years ago for the $59,000-a-year position, said he will work with Strobel.

But he said, "if the situation becomes untenable, then I would seek employment elsewhere."

Strobel expressed surprise about Rule's remarks. He said the two have "cooperated quite well" in the past.

"I'm not interested in empire building," Strobel said. "I'm only interested in being a public servant and doing the duties that have been assigned to me, and that has been my position for 25 years."