At 8:15 last night, Alexandria City Manager Douglas Harman placed a felt cowboy hat on his head before heading West to become the city manager of Fort Worth.

Applause, laughter, and one of the biggest crowds in memory filled the City Council chamber as Harman donned his hat and relinquished the post of Alexandria's top administrator that he has held for nine years.

After Mayor Charles E. Beatley presented him with a gold-plated key to the city, Harman pulled out a shopping bag and held up his own gift to the mayor: a cartoon he had drawn of Beatley wearing aviator goggles and scarf. Harman's cartoon dubbed Beatley, a retired airline pilot, "Fort Worth's Informal Aviation Advisor."

To the amusement of the spectators, the cartoon listed two areas of the mayor's specialization -- 1, speeches on airports, and 2, additional speeches on airports.

Digging deeper in his shopping bag, Harman pulled out his farewell gift to the newly appointed acting city manager, Vola T. Lawson. The crowd, mostly city staff and friends, roared with laughter as Harman held up a papier mache pinata in the shape of a donkey. When Lawson first heard of her temporary promotion from assistant city manager for housing, she joked that she felt "a bit like a pinata at a pinata party."

Harman had come under fire recently since both a special and federal grand jury began investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the city's public safety department.

Harman was criticized for not placing Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel on administrative leave until allegations that Strobel prematurely halted a 1984 police drug investigation were resolved.

Lawson said one of her "top priorities" will be to ask the council to fund a comprehensive administrative review of Strobel's department.

When Lawson officially took Harman's post last night and sat in his high-backed chair in front of the council platform, she received a standing ovation.

"It's a great night," Beatley said. "We're all moving on."

The mayor said he believed Lawson was Virginia's first woman city manager and just the person to "follow through" on a thorough review of Strobel's department.

At a reception honoring Harman and Lawson last night, both said they felt excited: Harman, because he was heading for a new city, and Lawson, because she had a new challenge -- ducking the pinata pokers.

After the reception, the council voted unanimously to study U.S. government plans for a new National Guard armory in Cameron Valley. The proposed $2.8 million facility will be funded by U.S. and state grants and accommodate 200 men from the 29th Infantry Division.

The council also unanimously approved a $1.3 million boathouse for the T. C. Williams High School crew. Ground will be broken in May for the new facility at the foot of Madison Street on the Potomac River waterfront. T.C. Williams is the city's only high school, and rowing is the most popular sport among students there.