Gwinnett ethics board will hear complaint against commissioner

Commissioner Kirkland Carden attends a board meeting at Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Commissioner Kirkland Carden attends a board meeting at Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Natrice Miller /

Gwinnett County and state leaders are appointing a five-member ethics board to hear a complaint against District 1 Commissioner Kirkland Carden.

The complaint alleges Carden worked as a “principal partner” in a company that accepted $7,500 in work last year from a man who was suing the county. The complaint also says accepting the work was a conflict of interest that Carden failed to disclose to county officials.

Laurie McClain, a Suwanee-based certified public accountant who ran against Carden in 2020, filed the complaint in February. McClain alleges that 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.

Campaign finance disclosures show Om Duggal, a developer who ran unsuccessfully for the state House last year, paid $7,500 for campaign consulting between May 12 and Aug. 31 to Workhorse Strategies, a company that lists Carden as its registered agent. Carden listed himself as “principle (sic) partner” of the company last year in a financial disclosure statement.

Carden voted May 24 with the rest of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners to deny a request from Duggal’s company, Diplomat Infraprop Sugarloaf, to rezone a property for a proposed 181-unit apartment complex. The company then sued in June, alleging the county had taken the property without compensation or due process because it can’t be developed as currently zoned. The lawsuit is still pending.

“I do not understand how Mr. Carden could possibly continue to take funds, albeit through a conduit entity, from a litigant against the county,” McClain said in her complaint. “Their business relationship certainly has not been disclosed publicly and there is clearly a conflict of interest.”

McClain did not return a message Monday seeking comment.

Carden declined comment, referring instead to a letter he sent to the county commission in January, before the ethics complaint was filed. In his letter, Carden said he was a minority stakeholder in Workhorse Strategies, which provided “nominal” political consulting to Duggal.

“In hindsight I believe I should have announced and recused,” Carden said. “I belatedly do that now. You have my apologies. Moreover, should this matter for any reason return to open session, I will publicly recuse myself from participation based on these facts. I provide this disclosure to you to belatedly comply with the Ethics in Zoning Act and the Gwinnett County Ethics Ordinance.”

Carden requested the letter be placed in the zoning file for Duggal’s case and be provided to the county attorney.

Thompson, who also chaired Duggal’s campaign, said Carden was not the main consultant to the campaign.

“Mr. Carden voted against the rezoning in question, so clearly him being a part owner of the company didn’t affect his vote,” Thompson said.

The county commission has appointed David Will, a Lawrenceville-based attorney and former ethics board chair, to serve on the ad hoc ethics board hearing the case.

The Gwinnett district attorney, the president of the Gwinnett County Bar Association, the chairperson of the local government section of the State Bar of Georgia and Carden also get to appoint one representative each to the ethics board. Appointments must be made by April 24.

The ethics board can subpoena witnesses and documents to investigate the complaint. McClain and Carden can summon witnesses and present evidence. Carden can be represented by an attorney at his own expense, according to the county.

The board decides by majority vote whether to sustain the complaint. The board makes non-binding recommendations to the county commission for penalties and potential measures to prevent further violations.

Potential penalties include a reprimand or initiation of proceedings for removal from office.