The deputy city manager of Aurora, Colo., James H. Mullen, is the top candidate for the job as Prince William County's chief administrator, sources said yesterday.

The Board of County Supervisors, which began a nationwide search six months ago, interviewed Mullen, 47, and five other candidates for the county executive's position in closed meetings this week. The board may vote on Tuesday to make an offer.

"It's time we made a decision," said Supervisor Edwin C. King (D-Dumfries). "I don't intend to spend more of the taxpayers' money moving people around."

The county has been without a permanent county executive since December, when Robert S. Noe Jr. became vice president of the Anden Group, a development firm that owns several thousand acres in Prince William. Noe, who held the post for 11 years, drew criticism toward the end of his tenure for his management style.

The new Prince William county executive will have to manage more than 2,000 employees and a $295 million annual budget. The executive also will direct Prince William's efforts to cope with phenomenal growth that has left schools, roads and other facilities overburdened. The county's population rose 55 percent to 230,000 in the 1980s.

In addition to Mullen, other candidates interviewed this week are Acting County Executive Connie Bawcum; Gary Gwyn, city manager of Tyler, Tex.; Elmer C. Hodge Jr., county administrator of Roanoke; David Richard Mora, city manager of Oxnard, Calif.; and Marie Aimee Shook, assistant county manager of Mecklenburg County, N.C.

A seventh candidate, Rodney L. Kendig, city manager of Pensacola, Fla., who was interviewed in April along with several other candidates, was not able to return to the county this week for further conversations.

While Mullen emerged as the favored candidate, sources said Gwyn, 49, also had strong backing. King and Occoquan Supervisor Kathleen K. Seefeldt have vigorously supported Bawcum, but several other supervisors have said they want a candidate without ties to Noe and the county staff. Sources said Bawcum, who has worked in county government for nearly 10 years, is unlikely to get the job.

If the supervisors are unable to choose between Gwyn and Mullen, sources said, Kendig or Hodge could be a compromise candidate. Hodge's experience with Virginia law makes him appealing, according to the sources. He has worked in local Virginia governments since 1976.

The supervisors are waiting for police to check the records of the candidates before making an offer, sources said.