When more than 100 Alexandrians gathered recently in a city banquet hall to bid farewell to former police chief Charles T. Strobel, he was the man of the hour. But it was a doll that stole the show.

The hand-made cloth figure, with brown hair and a downturned mouth, was riddled with pins. And written across its front was the name "Vola."

Strobel's well-wishers were making light of his troubles with his former boss, City Manager Vola Lawson. Their strained relations, no secret for the past two years, came to a heated end in September when Lawson, citing "significant failure of top management" in the police department, announced that Strobel was going on permanent leave, three months ahead of his scheduled retirement Dec. 3.

In his first remarks since leaving the job, Strobel recently said a written reprimand from Lawson in September was "a charade . . . to load up allegations unmercifully" to force him out of office.

The 50-year-old former chief defended his decade-long tenure as chief and charged that Lawson's management style has usurped "the role of her managers" and brought about a "rule of fear and intimidation" among city employes.

Lawson declined to comment on the ex-chief's charges, said Assistant City Manager J. Thomas Brannan.

"Police Chief Strobel's performance leaves a lot to be desired, and excuses he offers are wrong and malicious and don't hide his own shortcomings as police chief," Brannan said. "There are good and ample reasons why Strobel is no longer police chief. His lack of leadership and poor morale in the department are two reasons . . . {as well as} his ineptness as a manager."

Strobel's September departure came after disclosures that police officials waited several weeks before taking action against an investigator accused of tipping off targets of an undercover drug probe. Lawson criticized Strobel for not immediately suspending the investigator, for not informing her soon enough of the allegations and for being difficult to locate when she wanted to talk to him, according to a copy of the reprimand.

She also said Strobel violated department regulations when he failed to discipline the head of the vice and narcotics division, Lt. Arthur Bratcher, who did not inform Strobel about allegations against the investigator for several weeks.

"I had utmost confidence in Bratcher," Strobel said in a recent interview. "He's very straight, but he procrastinates a lot . . . . I've been criticized for giving Bratcher too much leeway. It may be well-founded . . . . He waited too long" to take action against the investigator.

Strobel said he first learned of the allegations against the investigator from Bratcher in June and was not told then that Bratcher had known about them for some time. The chief said he agreed to Bratcher's request to discuss the allegations with the regional task force conducting the drug investigation before confronting the accused investigator, something Bratcher said would take two to three weeks.

Strobel said he did not immediately inform Lawson of the allegations against the investigator because "it didn't seem like it was a significant incident to report . . . . I ordered {Lawson} be told after {the investigator} resigned." That was in August.

Strobel said that he did not voluntarily leave his job in September. On the advice of his physician, he asked for 20 days of sick leave because of job-related stress. He opted to take permanent sick leave, he said, after his attorney notified him that Lawson indicated that he could return to work after 20 days, but probably not as police chief. He said he receives $54,000 annually in retirement.

Lawson is conducting a nationwide search for Strobel's successor. Originally hoping to name one by Dec. 1, she chose to continue the search after her preferred applicant unexpectedly withdrew in October.

Strobel said, "Lawson is looking for a puppet. Someone who will do what she wants, when she wants it and who will make her look good."

In the interview, Strobel defended his sometimes stormy tenure, though added that he became less effective in later years.

"I don't shy away from controversy but I'd be damned if I go out and seek it," he said. " . . . I felt that I was effective, quite honestly up to my last day.

"But I recognize that I was not as effective nor as energetic as I was 10 years ago or five years ago. I don't attribute all that to what happened to me personally so much as to the lack of leadership and support that I saw the police department . . . and myself personally" receive from the city manager.

Dressed in blue jeans and sweat shirt in the Spotsylvania County home where he moved permanently in September, Strobel appeared relaxed in the recent interview and said he has put his former career behind him. He does not plan to take another police job right now, preferring to spend time with his family at their home, where a flag flies over a front porch furnished with rockers.

The ex-chief said he spends hours in his workshop, drives a school bus, has put up a back-yard swing for his 3-year-old daughter and recently accompanied his son on a school field trip to Washington.

I'm enjoying immensely just being home with the kids and {my wife} Paula," he said.

The native-born Alexandrian fulfilled a childhood dream when he joined the police force at 19. Three months after being named chief by then-City Manager Douglas Harman in September 1977, Strobel launched an aggressive investigation into a protection racket for gambling and prostitution rings.

Strobel considers the multifaceted investigation a success, pointing out that it led to the departures of eight longtime police officers and the city's former commonwealth's attorney, William Cowhig. In addition, 21 massage parlors, which Strobel said were fronts for prostitution, were closed down in the city.

"Alexandria was perceived to have some corrupt officials and police in years past and this investigation was a very major turning point," he said.

Strobel said his next major crisis came in late 1984 over allegations that he had interfered in an investigation into claims that former Alexandria sheriff Michael Norris had witnessed and ignored cocaine dealing at a city restaurant. In early 1985, a special grand jury cleared Norris and Strobel of any wrongdoing.

The next year, after investigating essentially the same charges, the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria indicted Strobel on 12 perjury counts. He was acquitted.

In a recommendation for Strobel dated July 17, U.S. Attorney in Alexandria Henry E. Hudson, who wasn't in office at the time of Strobel's indictment, wrote: "I will say unequivocally that I would not have signed the indictment given the evidence garnered in that investigation."

Strobel returned to his job, but department morale was low and his effectiveness had been hampered. At the time, Lawson became increasingly involved in police affairs.

Over the following months, she was critical of several highly publicized mistakes in the dispatchers' office, the department's affirmative action hiring record and what she perceived as a lack of priorities, such as better drug enforcement.

"There is an ongoing need to keep this office informed of major issues and trends and emergency situations, as opposed to random bulletins on purse snatchings, etc.," she wrote in Strobel's last evaluation in June.

Strobel said he had difficulty meeting with Lawson, sometimes not getting appointments for several weeks and other times having them canceled at the last minute. "The only time I got to talk to my boss was when she had something to complain about," he said. "Sometimes there was no contact for three to four months."

Despite these difficulties, Strobel was given an "above average" evaluation by Lawson in June, along with a $3,000 raise.. In the evaluation, she wrote, "You have been a major part of the Department's progress and you will be long remembered."