Manassas Park officials will decide tonight whether to hire their former city manager as an unpaid consultant on three projects affecting his new boss's development in the city.

City Council members tentatively approved a plan last month to engage Jerry Davis, now a vice president of Signal Hill Development Corp., but said they will not take a final vote until the city attorney decides the arrangement would not violate the state's conflict-of-interest laws.

"My first instinct is, given that it is an unpaid position, it would not be {a conflict}, but the council wants us to look at all angles," James A. Hoffman II, one of the city's lawyers, said yesterday.

Davis, who left his nine-year position as city manager June 15, would be working on three projects: an archeological survey of land that includes the site of the Signal Hill project; development of a 106-acre city park; and the Mid-Atlantic Professional Golf Association proposal to lease land and build an 18-hole golf course near the Signal Hill site.

Signal Hill has agreed to pay for the survey and the park, and the developer could reap benefits if the golf course is built.

"The city gets increased tax revenues from the golf course lease and we get increased values" for the development, said Signal Hill President John G. Cartwright.

James Norlund, the new city manager and Davis's former deputy, said Davis offered to be a consultant "out of the clear blue," but Davis said two council members, whom he would not identify, had asked him to work for the city.

Manassas Park, Virginia's littlest city, is actively courting new development to increase its tax base and school-age population, and Signal Hill's 1,800-house project is crucial to their efforts. The city, with 7,000 residents, is about 26 miles west of Washington.

"It's not your typical adversarial relationship . . . . The city has tied their fortunes to {Signal Hill's} star," said Norlund.

Most council members spoke of the proposed arrangement with Davis in glowing terms.

"I think Jerry has too much knowledge for us to lose him," said Frances T. Embrey.

But Ernest Evans, whose term ended June 30 shortly after the council's tentative vote, said, "There is no way {Davis} can work on those parks and not have a conflict of interest. All that is going to help sell houses. {The council} needs to go ahead and cut the strings and let {Davis} go."