Duggal had, meanwhile, asked Gwinnett County to rezone an 8-acre property he owned along with Underground Atlanta developer Shaneel Lalani, where their company, Diplomat Infraprop Sugarloaf, wanted to build apartments. The Board of Commissioners, including Carden, voted unanimously in late May 2022 against the rezoning. The real estate company sued Gwinnett County the following month in a case that remains open.
Laurie McClain, an officer in the Gwinnett GOP who ran against Carden in 2020, said she read through Duggal’s disclosures and emailed County Administrator Glenn Stephens in October 2022 asking where to file an ethics complaint that Carden did business with Duggal while he was suing the county. In January, before McClain filed her complaint, Carden disclosed the relationship, apologized to his fellow commissioners and pledged to recuse himself from future business involving Duggal or the zoning case.
McClain’s complaint alleged Carden violated the “incompatible service” provision of the county ethics code by accepting private work that would impair his judgment in performing his public duties, without disclosing the fact.
The Gwinnett ethics board late last month upheld the complaint but recommended no disciplinary action in light of Carden’s belated disclosure and apology.
Carden, who is running for re-election, criticized McClain’s behavior in the ethics board hearing, telling The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Laurie McClain used this complaint process to settle a personal and political vendetta, which you can hear by her unhinged comments and testimony.”
The county commission held its own hearing Tuesday night on the ethics board’s recommendations. Only one person spoke, Richard West of the Sugarloaf Country Club, who said Carden came to a meeting with homeowners before the zoning vote in an apparent attempt to negotiate a compromise with Duggal. West also pointed out Carden made a motion to table the zoning case, which no other commissioner seconded, before moving to deny the application.
“We deserve better,” West said.
In deciding to reprimand Carden, commissioners considered the comments he made to the AJC and McClain’s response that he lacked decorum and professionalism, County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said. In its resolution, the board acknowledged Carden’s belated disclosure but expressed disapproval of his failure to recognize the potential conflict or reveal it when appropriate.
The resolution also said Carden’s comments after the ethics board hearing caused confusion, causing the county commission to express “the necessity of his full and complete appreciation of the critical importance of the code’s disclosure requirements, of his full and complete understanding of the serious nature of his admitted violation and of his future compliance with these disclosure requirements.”
“The Board of Commissioners believes that all county officials should govern their behavior in a manner that honors the important positions of trust they hold, that such positions of trust are accompanied by higher expectations for behavior and that the holders of these positions should strive to conduct themselves in a manner that meets the intent as well as the specific provisions laid out in the code of ethics,” the resolution said.