Carden’s 2020 election rival, Republican Laurie McClain, filed the complaint earlier this year. She said she was pleased with the ethics board’s decision but declined to say whether she planned to run against Carden again.
“I even shook Commissioner Carden’s hand and told him it wasn’t personal,” she said in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and all five county commissioners. “Apparently, he has now decided to make it personal.”
McClain complained that Carden was a principal partner in a campaign consulting firm that worked for Democratic state House candidate Om Duggal in the summer of 2022, while Duggal’s development company was suing Gwinnett County over a rejected rezoning request.
“I’m just stating that it’s an inappropriate relationship,” McClain told the ethics board during the recent evidentiary hearing. “My only concern was that he was providing personal services to a litigant against the county while he was a sitting commissioner.”
Carden had joined the rest of the commission in voting against Duggal’s rezoning application, which concerned a property in his district.
Carden told the ethics board that he and two other people were equal partners in the campaign consulting firm, Workhorse Strategies. Carden was not the main consultant to Duggal’s campaign, said former state Sen. Curt Thompson, an attorney who chaired the campaign and represented Carden in the ethics matter.
Carden left Workhorse Strategies in September 2022 for another job. Duggal lost the election that November to state Rep. Matt Reeves, R-Duluth.
Duggal’s company, Diplomat Infraprop Sugarloaf, still has a pending lawsuit against Gwinnett County, the Sugarloaf Park Homeowners Association and others. The lawsuit alleges the county took Duggal’s property near Duluth without compensation or due process because it can’t be developed without rezoning. Duggal had proposed to build a 181-unit apartment complex there.
Carden in January wrote a letter explaining his relationship to Duggal and apologizing for not doing so sooner. He pledged to recuse himself from future discussions or votes concerning the zoning case.
Carden said McClain veered off topic during the ethics board hearing and stuck printed evidence in his face at one point, which he believed to be vindictive behavior.
“Laurie McClain used this complaint process to settle a personal and political vendetta, which you can hear by her unhinged comments and testimony,” he said.
McClain denied putting paper in his face and complained of his characterization of her.
“He still does not seem to understand that he is required, as an elected official, to maintain decorum and professionalism in all county matters,” she said.