Osceola County hires road commission manager

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Osceola County Road Commissioners hired a new managing engineer to replace the former engineer who is awaiting a court trial for perjury.

Luke Houlton, of Mio, began work as the commission’s managing engineer on Monday. Houlton oversees the commission’s day-to-day operations, including road maintence, construction and policy.

Three candidates were interviewed for the position, which has been covered by interim manager Bill Huss since August. The board approved Houlton’s hire at a Thursday morning meeting.

“He was manager/engineer in Cheboygen County, and he’s got great qualifications,” said road commission chairman Alan Gingrich. “He was basically everything we were looking for.”

Houlton will replace Cliff Youngs, 42, of Big Rapids, who is charged with perjury after police say he lied under oath during a sworn interview with Michigan State Police detectives in March. Youngs was interviewed by detectives investigating claims that he had altered time cards for road commission jobs to retain extra funds from project grants, including a FEMA grant given to the county in 2009 after tornadoes caused damage in Osceola County. Youngs told detectives he had never asked anyone to alter time cards.

On Aug. 30, three road commission employees testified against Youngs during a preliminary examination in Osceola County’s 77th District Court, saying Youngs had, in fact, asked them to make such alterations.

Osceola County District Court Judge Susan Grant bound the case over to circuit court.

He was put on unpaid administrative leave for the remainder of the year at a September road commission meeting. Later, commissioners voted not to renew his contract, which is up in December.

A settlement conference for Youngs is set for Jan. 4 and a jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 26.