Alexandria City Manager Douglas Harman said last night that he will refer questions relating to a the conduct of a police drug investigation to the city prosecutor, after the City Council had deliberated for more than two hours without deciding what to do.

The Council had voted Dec. 22 to hire outside counsel to investigate the office of Sheriff Michael E. Norris, City Manager Harman and city Police Chief Charles T. Strobel.

But last night the council was unable to reach an agreement on whether to formalize that decision and define the scope of the investigation.

Harman finally told the council: "I don't care what you do, but I, as city manager, am going to send it to the commonwealth's attorney," John E. Kloch.

He added: "As one individual smeared by this whole thing and [who has] had his name dragged through the media . . . I'm tired of this media circus."

The council has been struggling to decide what to do since a local newspaper, the Alexandria Port Packet, published allegations last month that a drug investigation had been halted prematurely by Strobel after Norris' name turned up on a police informant's tape recording.

Strobel repeatedly has said there was no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing on Norris' part, and Norris has denied wrongdoing, bitterly attacking what he yesterday called "an unprecedented witch hunt."

Harman's action last night was what the three-member Republican council minority had been advocating. They said that the allegations of misconduct relating to the drug investigation were of a criminal nature and therefore should be handled by city prosecutor Kloch.

The four Democrats on the council, including Mayor Charles E. Beatley, had urged hiring an independent investigator to probe the handling of the drug investigation.

But when it became clear that the vote would be 4 to 3, the mayor said that he would abstain, preferring no action unless a broader consensus supported it.

"I don't see anything I'd like to vote for here yet," said Beatley. "I feel strongly about this . . . . I see a 4-to-3 vote . . . . I think this thing is much too important to let it go on that.

"I'm going to abstain, but unfortunately it's not going to clear the air . . . . I'm just going to sit back."

Because of the events of last night, District of Columbia lawyer Abbe D. Lowell, who had been nominated Dec. 22 as the outside investigator, will not be formally hired to carry out the investigation.

Both Harman's action and the council's inaction pleased Chief Strobel and Sheriff Norris, neither of whom had liked the idea of an outside investigation.

Said Strobel: "I think their action has allowed for the appropriate procedure to be followed. I have confidence in John Kloch looking at this ethically and professionally."

Norris, who said earlier yesterday that he would ask the Virginia attorney general for an opinion on the legality of an investigation of his office initiated by the City Council said, "I think the most appropriate action taken in the last nine months has been taken tonight: adjournment."

Norris, who is an elected state official but whose office is partially funded by the city, said that he would proceed with his request to the attorney general.

Kloch already has reviewed much of the material relating to the drug investigation, and will be asked by Harman to go over it once more. Kloch made an investigation of the handling of the drug probe after police investigators, familiar with the case and upset at how it was handled by Strobel, had complained to him last October.

As a result of that investigation, Kloch said he found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either Strobel or Norris.

Kloch said last night that although he will be reviewing much of the same material, "I will do it obviously in a different manner . . .with sworn statements under oath."

He said that he expects to conclude the investigation within three weeks.

Last night's special council meeting took place in a chamber crowded with city employes, mainly from the sheriff's office and police department. They laughed derisively when council member Donald C. Casey said that he was concerned about employe morale.

It was Casey who brought the allegations about the mishandling of the drug investigation to the council's attention. . He has been an outspoken proponent of an independent investigation into the drug case, and is perceived by many city employes as the purveyor of unsubstantiated rumors.

At one point in last night's meeting, Harman declared: "I have been accused of coverups by Mr. Casey I don't know how many times. I'm tired of these accusations." It was an unusual display of bitterness by the city manager toward a council member.

At an afternoon press conference yesterday, Norris excoriated Casey as a "moral coward who deals in malicious lies and character assasination."

Casey responded a short time later by saying: "I think it's a major effort to derail the investigation. I think he [Norris] is indicating he won't cooperate with it."