Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan was named special counsel yesterday to assist an Alexandria special grand jury in its probe of how city officials handled a city police drug investigation in early l984.

Circuit Court Judge Donald H. Kent designated Horan to help the grand jury review complaints that a drug investigation that included allegations about Alexandria Sheriff Michael E. Norris was prematurely halted by Director of Public Safety Charles T. Strobel.

Kent said the grand jury could take up to six months for its review, although Commonwealth's Attorney John E. Kloch has estimated it will take only three weeks.

As the grand jury was being sworn in yesterday, City Manager Douglas Harman, Strobel's superior and the city's chief administrator, was in Fort Worth being interviewed for the post of city manager.

Harman's role in the handling of the drug investigation has been questioned by some members of the City Council.

In a memo sent Thursday to City Council members informing them of his Fort Worth trip, Harman said he had "concluded that it is appropriate that I begin to look at career alternatives."

"I remain deeply committed to the city of Alexandria and its people, and do not anticipate leaving the city unless a unique opportunity arises," wrote Harman, who has been city manager for nine years. His annual salary is $70,000.

The role of the special grand jury will be to determine whether there was misconduct on the part of any city official, specifically Strobel or Harman, in connection with the drug investigation.

Judge Kent told the panel of six men and five women that their "function will be to investigate and to issue a written report" on "any condition which involves, or tends to promote, criminal activities" of any kind.

Their report will be given to a regular grand jury, which will decide whether to issue any criminal indictments, Kent said.

Kent said he would have to see the report before he decided whether to make any of it public.

The City Council has urged that as much as possible of the report be made public in order to "clear the air" concerning the allegations surrounding the drug investigation.

When Judge Kent asked for questions, one juror said, "I don't even know what we're investigating yet. When do we learn that?"

Kloch then met privately with the jury to brief them. Horan could not be reached for comment yesterday.

On Jan. 4, after the City Council rejected an earlier decision to do its own investigation, Harman asked Kloch to review the handling of the drug investigation.

After first agreeing, Kloch declined, saying he was not an investigator, and asked for a special grand jury.

Harman has said he was distressed and resentful of the way some City Council members have treated him in the furor over the drug investigation. He said he was very upset about the council's Dec. 22 decision to investigate him as part of their expected probe into the handling of the drug probe.

Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. has said including Harman's name on that resolution was a "formality" because "he is captain of the administrative ship, and he is responsible for his crew."

"I feel there was a fragile justification, at best, for including my office, to start with," Harman said in an interview last week.

"I was being painted as a drug dealer or drug addict and . . . my family and I deserved a little more sensitivity," he said.

Beatley, who has had a close relationship with the 44-year-old city manager, said the current controversy has not ruined Harman's reputation, "unless he lets it . . . . He cannot be defeatist."

Harman should not get "in a position where you aren't at arm's length with all the people you have to do business with," Beatley said.

"I hope he has some arm's-length relationship with Strobel," he said. "I'm not positive. They're old friends."

He said Harman is still one of the best city managers in the country. "Fort Worth is a real prize," Beatley said.