As City Manager Douglas Harman drove around Alexandria yesterday, taking a last look at the city he has run for nine years, he pulled up to a dusty construction site in the shadow of the Braddock Road Metro station.
One last time, Harman, who leaves Tuesday to become city manager of Fort Worth, surveyed the site for the new public safety building, the city agency headed by Charles T. Strobel that has been the focus of much of the recent controversy in Alexandria.
"If I have one regret," said Harman, it is that the allegations that Strobel mishandled a 1984 police drug investigation severed the close bond between him and Mayor Charles E. Beatley.
Beatley, who in 1975 selected Harman to become Alexandria's city manager, long was seen as the senior partner in an exceptionally close political couple. They worked together famously, successfully pushing for waterfront redevelopment and coaxing business into the city. Last August, they even vacationed together in Oshkosh, Wis., sharing the same tent.
"They got along very, very well," said Mel Bergheim, a former City Council member who voted for Harman's selection as city manager. "The chemistry between the two was right."
Beatley, a 68-year-old retired airline pilot from Ohio, and Harman, a 44-year-old professional administrator from Nebraska, still have at least two things in common: they are charming and popular. Harman served longer than any other manager in Alexandria and Beatley is running unopposed in his sixth mayoral election this May.
But when it comes to Charles T. Strobel, a Harman appointee, the two part sharply.
"We don't have revolt after revolt in the police department if there is nothing wrong," Beatley said at a special council meeting he called yesterday to seek support for his request to Harman that Stobel be put on paid administrative leave.
Beatley has said a federal grand jury and a special circuit court grand jury would not be investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the public safety department if "everything was right there." The mayor faults Harman for not taking the initiative to place Strobel on leave until the "cloud over the city" is lifted.
And Beatley says their estrangement began last December, when he discovered Harman had known about a police investigation into allegations that Sheriff Michael E. Norris may have used drugs at a local restaurant and did not tell the council even though it was voting then on a merger of the police and sheriff's departments.
"I think it would have been improper, illegal and downright stupid for me to go telling council about Norris," Harman said yesterday. He said he and police found no evidence to support the allegations that the sheriff had used drugs. To put Stobel on administrative leave, Harman said: "would do serious damage to his career . . . . I still think he's done an adequate job."
Other members of council apparently agreed more with Harman than Beatley yesterday. At the special early morning meeting, the council tabled Beatley's motion to immediately remove Strobel from his duties.
Buoyed by his farewell council victory, Harman spoke of the highlights of his years at City Hall. He said he'd miss seeing the completion of the Torpedo Factory in Old Town, the City Hall renovation and, of course, all his friends.
But Harman, known for his early morning aerobic workouts and professional-quality cartoons, dug deep in his coat pocket and pulled out a new lapel pin. Instead of the regal City of Alexandria pin, it had a long-horned steer emblazoned on it.
"I hired him because he was forward looking, always interested in the future," Beatley said about Harman yesterday.
After handing out his Fort Worth lapel pin, Harman began talking about his new fast-growing Texas city. "I met with [House Majority Leader] Jim Wright (D-Texas) yesterday," he said. "It can only help to have the majority leader as your representative." Douglas Harman says he regrets that STrobel issue caused strain with Beatley.