The Montgomery County Council yesterday unanimously confirmed Charles A. Moose as the next county police chief, endorsing a well-regarded candidate who surfaced late in the six-month search and never formally applied for the job.

The vote provided a curt conclusion to what has been a national search marked by extraordinary secrecy as it reached from Rockville to Los Angeles and Austin and finally to Portland, Ore., where investigators scoured Moose's home town of the past 24 years for signs of trouble.

Indeed, while endorsing Moose to take over the department Aug 1, council members continued to condemn a process that left them with virtually no say over who would fill one of the county's most important jobs. He was not present at yesterday's confirmation vote.

"Dr. Moose is eminently qualified to be the chief here or in any other jurisdiction," said council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large). "I do hope, however, we will be able to separate the person from the process. . . . There are some who are so deflated about the way this was carried out that it calls into question its legitimacy."

The police chief selection was perhaps the most important of County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's five-year tenure, an opportunity to quell months of criticism from civil rights groups who say the department mistreats minority residents. Yet Duncan (D) had to convince Moose of two things before he would leave his big-city perch to run a suburban police department under federal civil rights review: that the Montgomery job was worthy of his resume and that Duncan would not meddle as Moose tried to turn around a department whose reputation has declined under its last two leaders.

Moose, 45, said he wanted to know one thing of Duncan.

"It was really just to find out from him [Duncan] if he wanted to be the police chief," Moose said. "He made it pretty clear that he did not."

Moose, head of the Portland Police Bureau for the last six years, did not respond to Montgomery's national ad campaign seeking candidates to run its 1,000-officer department. Instead, county officials went after him by tapping into a national network of police chiefs to vouch for the department and to assure Moose that his candidacy would be kept confidential.

Moose was considered one of the few big-city chiefs "in play," given his recent bids to run departments in Montgomery, Ala., and the District -- a job he said he badly wanted. A product of the segregated South, Moose said he would have been offered the Alabama job if city officials hadn't found out that his wife, Sandy, was white. But, as he told council members last week, the county job had not been on his radar screen: "I have not been dreaming of becoming the police chief in Montgomery County."

County officials targeted Moose in April -- five months after the search began -- when the firm hired to conduct the selection identified him partly because of his reputation as an innovator in community policing.

Innovation was something eagerly sought by county officials, who were concerned the department no longer was attracting national notice. In January, a focus group comprising police chiefs from area jurisdictions told county officials that, in the words of Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Romer, "Montgomery was not at the table" in discussions of policing around the country.

Duncan said race also played a factor in the search.

"We went out and said we're going to recruit a diverse group, we're going to recruit blacks, and our six finalists were diverse," he said. "But when it came down to deciding who we want running the department, he was clearly the best choice. He won this appointment because he was the best candidate for the job."

To recruit Moose, county officials turned to other big-city chiefs, hoping to use them to convince him that the Montgomery job was a good one. At the request of Robert Wasserman, the consultant hired to head the search, former Houston and Austin police chief Elizabeth Watson phoned Moose in early April to pitch the Montgomery department and assure him his candidacy would be kept secret if he went after the job.

"It's a chance to set the tone for how this kind of policing is done," Wasserman said of the job's appeal. "Montgomery is reflective of a very large portion of our country. And it is near Washington, which is significant."

Montgomery officials didn't just keep their discussions with Moose private, they treated the whole process that way.

They reserved conference rooms to conduct interviews in the names of fictitious groups, such as Montgomery County Community Outreach. When they needed hotel rooms in Montgomery -- or even on the West Coast, where they interviewed five candidates -- they had low-level employees book the rooms. They did not process bills accrued during the search for fear a candidate's name might appear on a receipt. Only four Montgomery officials were involved -- including Duncan -- and none made notes of scheduled interviews on desktop calendars for fear word would leak out.

"Most of the people you want to hire are happy where they are," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which conducts chief searches. "Anyone who's been involved in this process knows it's an obstacle course from beginning to end, and the prospect of getting the job is not high."

Soon after Watson made her pitch, Montgomery officials followed up through personnel director Marta Perez, formerly of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. She set up a meeting at Reagan National Airport on April 6. Moose was scheduled to fly to Washington that day for a federal Bureau of Justice Assistance conference.

His flight to Washington was late, his bags were lost, and he was distracted as he talked to Romer at the airport T.G.I. Friday's. Moose recalled, "I was a little disjointed, but it was positive enough for us to have substantive meetings."

"I asked him at the end if we could consider him a candidate," Romer said. "He said yes."

In some ways, Moose has been a reluctant candidate his whole professional life. Growing up in a small town 40 miles south of Greensboro, N.C., Moose attended segregated schools through the sixth grade. He chose to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over several historically black colleges in the state, moving into the dorm his first day of college without having visited.

When Moose was a senior majoring in criminal justice, a professor and mentor, Reuben M. Greenberg, offered students extra credit to take a police qualification exam he had promised a friend he would help set up. Moose did, and after continuing an application process without being sure he was even interested, he was offered a job as a patrol officer in Portland upon graduation. He and Greenberg got out a map to find out where it was.

"He said, `You're 21,' " Moose recalled. " `If you don't like it, come back.' "

Taking the job in Montgomery will, in essence, mark his East Coast return. Moose has told council members that his first task is to win the respect of officials, his rank-and-file officers and a community with an uneasy relationship with the department. He will do so, he said, by increasing ethnic diversity in the ranks to make the force more closely resemble the community and by listening carefully to his line officers.

Moose is not expecting an easy start. Already he has heard from colleagues familiar with the Justice Department civil rights review that it will sharply criticize the department in places. He has asked federal investigators to delay releasing the results until he takes over the department.

"I think the word was . . . `You'll find Montgomery County real good and bad,' " Moose said of his conversation with others about the civil rights review. "And I was going, `Well, I'm not sure about all the bad.' And [my colleague] goes, `Well, rest assured, there's some bad.' "

CAPTION: Charles A. Moose rose from patrolman to chief in Portland, Ore.