Don't accuse the Howard County Council of not being in tune with the times. The council's executive secretary, Robert Vogel, hired a management consultant recently to study how the council office is working -- and not -- from the top on down.

Two weeks ago, Columbia consultant Roger Karsk, president of Roger Karsk Associates, began meeting with council members, their aides, legislative assistants and clerical staffers individually to discuss their expectations and concerns. Before the month is out, Karsk, who is being paid $7,850, plans to lead them through group exercises emphasizing such concepts as "role clarification," "consensus building" and "team building."

Although some council members have complained about their office's inefficiency, Vogel said that wasn't the reason he hired the consultant. Rather, the election of three new council members, the addition of five new council aides, the retirement of one staff member and the promotions of two others have created "some uncertainty" in the office, Vogel said, and provided a good opportunity for "a little self-evaluation."Grapevine items were compiled by staff writers Jo-Ann Armao, Retha Hill, Lisa Leff and Chris Spolar.

"It's the 'in' thing to do, isn't it?" Vogel said. "In the '70s, everyone went and got 'est-ed.' Now they go and get a management consultant."

Who ever said love was free?

In a court suit that has raised a few eyebrows in political and courtroom circles, state Del. Michael R. Gordon is asking former girlfriend Connie M. Hughes of Germantown to repay a $13,000 loan he said she owes.

Hughes, who said in court depositions that she had "hundreds" of sexual encounters with Gordon during their relationship from April 1985 to June 1986, contends that the money is not something that has to be repaid. The two were "contemplating marriage and were very much in love" at the time Gordon gave her the money, according to court documents.

Hughes said in the court papers that she signed what she now realizes was a promissory note for a loan of $12,985.76 at an interest rate of 13 percent. But she never knew she was signing a loan note, she said.

"He stated something to the effect that he had never led her astray, and that he would not do anything to hurt her and that the signing of the notes was just a 'mere formality' so he would have a record," according to the court documents.

Gordon denied in the court papers that Hughes was unaware of the nature of the note she was signing. The "loan was strictly a business arrangement and not in any way related to marital plans."

A hearing in the case is scheduled for May. Gordon was married Oct. 31 to Carol Blum, his third wife.

The Howard County state's attorney's office recently received an unusual piece of mail from a criminal defendant. On Nov. 19, the same day Leo Rites, 40, an inmate in the Maryland State Penitentiary in Baltimore, was indicted on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery, state prosecutors received an envelope marked "delicate paper inside."

When Deputy State's Attorney Dwight Thompson opened the envelope, he found a piece of white toilet tissue on which Rites had penned requests for a court hearing and legal documents. Rites plans to represent himself on the Howard charges.

A shocked Thompson said: "This is the first time we've received anything like this."

Rites is accused of plotting the Oct. 17 robbery of a Columbia High's store in which a 20-year-old clerk was stabbed to death.

It was, in the parlance of news reporters, too good to check. Making the rounds in Montgomery County Democratic circles was a rumor that Ted Koppel, ABC's guru of late night news, was interested in running for the 8th District congressional seat.

Koppel, whose contract as anchor of ABC's "Nightline" is running out and who is widely reported to be looking around for new challenges and who, it is speculated, is possibly interested in politics, lives in Montgomery County. Koppel's purported interest in a campaign against Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella was brought up at a recent meeting of Liaison I, a monthly session of the county's most influential office holders and party leaders. But, so say people from that meeting, no one could provide any substance for the report.

Calls to Koppel's office in Washington and to ABC headquarters in New York brought swift denials from spokeswomen for Koppel.

"Too bad," said one Democratic insider. "Have you ever seen him take someone on? He's got the style to pick Connie apart without it looking like he is picking on her." Morella formally announces her relection bid on Nov. 30.AFTER WORDS "Some of the people who've been quoted in the paper . . . just want to ruffle the feathers and keep the smoke going."

-- Prince George's County Council Chairwoman Hilda R. Pemberton after some black leaders, bitter over a council defeat of a mandatory set-aside bill for minority businesses, said they would not support a charter amendment campaign that could lead to future set-aside legislation