Reelected Arlington Sheriff James A. Gondles Jr. dismissed a volunteer deputy yesterday and said he was considering job actions against 21 deputies for the public support they showed his opponent in Tuesday's election.

"There would be some people who would say fire them all, {and} there would be some people who would say forgive them all," said Gondles, a Democrat who added that he had not ruled out firing the deputies. "I haven't made up my mind . . . . But I'll tell you one thing, I'm going to expect that part of the job of a deputy sheriff is loyalty."

During the campaign, the 22 deputies signed a statement that ran in local newspapers and was passed out as a flier supporting Gondles' campaign challenger, former deputy Ronald B. Hager. All remain in the department.

Gondles' supporters said they believed some deputies had sabotaged the sheriff after an accounting ledger was misplaced during an internal audit. Such suspicions also were raised after Gondles announced that he had found an electronic eavesdropping device in his office.

"If you've got 22 deputies who did what they did, that's a problem," said Kevin Appel, Arlington's deputy treasurer and a lawyer who has lectured on the subject of political firings. "It's a cancer that has to be dealt with."

Appel said the law permits elected sheriffs to fire, hire and reassign any employe. But, he added, a sheriff's authority to purge political opponents after an election may be limited to employes who hold policymaking positions.

One deputy who supported Hager said many of the deputies who went public during the campaign are looking for other jobs. "We're hoping that he will just let us leave in peace by Jan. 1 {when Gondles' new term begins} or just bury the hatchet," said the deputy, who asked not to be identified.

Gondles said one of his main concerns was that the deputies represent the sheriff. If they do not support the sheriff in an election, he said, "there's a question of, are they representing you or sandbagging you?"

He took his first action yesterday, removing Robert Skelton, a volunteer deputy. Skelton worked in the department for six years. He served warrants and provided courtroom security, and was allowed to carry a concealed weapon, a right that will be revoked.

The sheriff said Skelton had surreptitiously taken a photograph of him at an airport. It was later used in Hager's campaign literature to discredit Gondles' job attendance record. Skelton would not comment on the picture, except to say, "The photograph was needed."

"I knew when I got into this there was a risk," Skelton added. "It really is a shame. I have served the county well."

The question of political loyalty versus constitutional guarantees of free speech and political expression has come up previously in state sheriffs' departments.

Sheriffs have the reputation for conducting some of the most cantankerous political campaigns in the state and for dismissing political rivals who were drawn out during election time, according to the legal case histories of some contested firings.

In 1976, after being elected sheriff of Lee County, Paul T. Harber, a Democrat, chose not to reappoint 10 Republican deputies. In 1983, the newly elected sheriff of Russell County refused to rehire 19 deputies who supported the ousted incumbent.

The deputies in both counties challenged their dismissals in court.

After Gondles' first reelection campaign in 1983 three deputies who were outspoken supporters of opponent John E. Baber left the department.

Gondles won Tuesday's reelection by a comfortable 3,000-vote margin. In 1983, only 186 votes separated him from the challenger.