When county Democrats chose Bedford city manager and ex-police chief Robert Reid to be the county’s new sheriff last month, they were clearly going with the shaker and not the mover. They passed over the candidate who so many on both sides of the vote believed was the more obvious candidate for a county with so much swindle at its oft-rotten core: Clayton Harris, a police academy chief and ex-Cleveland police commander from Collinwood who vowed to actually start enforcing all the laws for everyone, from county boss Jimmy Dimora on down. It was a perfect measure for how the county’s balance of political power clearly tilts toward the cozy ’burbs and away from the ailing city. But how often does the better candidate lose out to the better ass-kiss? Apparently, more often than not.

Last December, as part of a push to streamline costs and services, county commissioners voted to merge the Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Health and the Board of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services of Cuyahoga County. The new model gets unveiled July 1.

2ff0/1245254737-denihan.jpgThe two final candidates to lead the new monster came from dramatically different backgrounds: Dr. Russell Kaye holds a PhD in experimental psychology and is the head of the county’s alcohol and drug abuse services, working locally for nearly two decades. Bill Denihan (pictured) is a well-connected Dem party animal with no direct experience before taking his job at the helm of the county’s mental-health board five years ago. He’s a former Cleveland safety director who also worked, in recent years, as the appointed leader of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services and the claims director for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.

So what does the new board do? They give the job to Denihan, of course, and they don’t even offer Kaye a chair on the new board. Jim Joyner, another top former board member who worked first as a drug counselor and then as training manager for the county drug board, was also left out of the new planning. Both men tendered their resignations.

“Philosophically, across the nation, whenever the two [types of programs] have merged, it tends to submerge alcohol and other drug programs,” says Joyner.

Differing views on the nature of addiction now divide the new board, he added, and could affect future funding. He hopes the winner takes all … the advice he can: “Whatever Mr. Denihan may or may not have in terms of being qualified, it’s important for any leader to recognize what those limitations are and that they hire the right people with the right knowledge base. That’s what’s waiting to be seen in terms of formation.”

Kaye, who isn’t sure where he’ll work next, took Buddha’s path in recounting the last year: “The skill set he brings is what the new board of directors felt were more valuable at this time, and I respect that. Beyond staff and leadership, the most important thing in this are those in Cuyahoga County who need addiction and mental-health services. The true litmus test will be whether they benefit from this move. If services aren’t at least consistent or improved from where they’ve been, it doesn’t matter how much is saved.”

So experimental, his psychology.

Another county worker, who asked to remain anonymous to keep his mortgage paid, didn’t mince words: “I don’t understand why [Denihan] was picked. The only thing I could see was that it was political. When you match the qualifications of these two people, Dr. Kaye was head-and-shoulders above his competition. Denihan is one of the best at being a political animal. He knows how to play and maneuver, and he’s part of the Democratic machine here in the county, so people can make whatever conclusion they want.”

Maybe Kaye should have ponied up for some trips to Vegas. — Dan Harkins

UPDATE: Denihan supporters respond.

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