Leesburg Town Manager Robert S. Noe Jr. has recommended that the council appoint Joseph R. Price, a 23-year veteran of the Montgomery County police department, as the town's new police chief.

The Town Council is expected to appoint Price at its Jan. 25 meeting, and he would begin work March 1. The slot has been vacant since April, when then-Chief Keith A. Stiles was fired.

Price, 48, who joined the Montgomery force in 1976, is one of that county's highest ranking officers. He said yesterday that he is excited about the prospect of heading Leesburg's 62-member department.

"To be a chief was always one of my desires. Leesburg provides a great place to work and a great place to raise a family," said Price, who is married with three children. "Leesburg is a community that is the essence of America. It has that small-town flavor."

Leesburg Mayor James E. Clem said he expects Price to be approved without a hitch. "He's a pleasant gentleman, and he'll work well with the police department," Clem said.

Clem said Leesburg officials were impressed by Price's long career with the Montgomery department, particularly his work as a commander in the fast-growing Germantown area. "We're not a sleepy town anymore, and we have to be prepared for that," Clem said. "He's seen the things that we could start seeing."

Price started in Montgomery as a patrol officer and worked his way up the ranks to positions including patrol supervisor and director of the training academy. He oversees the department's Management Services Bureau, which includes emergency communications, training, budget and finance, community outreach and technology and information systems.

Price will be taking over a department in which some tension remains over the circumstances of Stiles's departure. Leesburg police Major Mike McVeigh, who is scheduled to meet with Price today, said "anxiety levels are a little high" as officers prepare to greet their new chief.

Stiles, who was hired as chief in 1995, was fired in April after town officials said that he was too quick to order internal investigations and that turnover in the department was too high. Stiles has said he was fired for exposing possible misuse of the town's credit card account by some town officials.

Price said he is aware of the situation and plans to meet with officers, citizens and officials, including Loudoun Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson and Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson. "I plan in my first couple months to do a lot of listening and looking," Price said.

Price also said he would work closely with McVeigh and other senior staff as he begins his work. "Their skill and expertise is going to be critical," he said.

CAPTION: Joseph R. Price, 48, has worked for Loudoun County's neighbor across the Potomac River since 1976.