FLORALA, Ala. (AP) _ The 85-year-old mayor sprinkled ''voodoo dust'' around City Hall the day before this town's first black police chief received a threatening letter from ''spirits.''

Mayor H.C. Mathis said Monday that Florala is suffering from ''the effects of voodooism,'' but denies having anything to do with the letter to Police Chief A.V. Patrick.

A political opponent of Mathis said the strange tale of black magic and municipal government stems more from a communications breakdown than the supernatural.

''You just can't transact serious business in this atmosphere. It's a state of confusion,'' said Councilman Jack Inabinett, who once accused Mathis of confronting him with a knife.

Inabinett said Mathis told a police dispatcher the powder was to ''drive the evil spirits out of City Hall.''

Mathis acknowledged spreading ''voodoo powder,'' which he said was actually corn starch, on the City Hall floor early one morning last month, but won't say why.

''The voodoo is still pending,'' Mathis said. ''There's a lot of witchery that goes on about. There's people dabbling in it.''

Mathis and the City Council have long been at odds, most frequently over management of the Police Department in this town of 2,000 on the Florida state line. Inabinett said he thinks Mathis sprinkled the powder to frighten the police.

Patrick received a ''warning letter from spirits'' in a red envelope with a Boston postmark.

''Your stars show that you have crossed up and angered the gods of your spirits by your actions and conduct in your treatment of your fellow man,'' the letter read.

It also warned Patrick to leave town. ''Spirits see cemetery nearby in near future if warning not taken,'' the letter said.

''I feel like the letter was connected with the voodoo dust,'' said Patrick, 55. ''I feel like he (the mayor) was trying to scare me.

''The mayor told me, 'If it works, you'll know,''' Patrick said. '' But I told him, 'I didn't come here running and I'm not leaving running,''' Patrick said.

Mathis, who is white, said he had nothing to do with the letter. ''I think it's real,'' he said.

City Council member Muriel Savage said the ''voodoo dust'' is nothing more than a joke that got out of hand and is now being used by the mayor's political foes.

''The black chief sort of believes in voodoo,'' she said. ''It really upset him. The mayor knows nothing about voodoo, so he sort of joined in on the joke.''

Patrick, who has served on the town's police force for 14 years, said he doesn't believe in voodoo. ''It doesn't worry me at all,'' he said.

The mayor and council members have waged war since his election to a four- year term in 1984. The most visible example occurred in June 1986, when Inabinett had Mathis arrested for reckless endangerment and harassment.

Inabinett, 63, complained that the mayor pulled a knife on him and threatened him after a council meeting in which a majority of the members refused to uphold the mayor's firing of then-acting Police Chief Paul Mitchell.

Inabinett eventually dropped the charges.

Mitchell finally resigned in September 1986 after being fired several times by Mathis and rehired by the council.