(May 22, 2020) It was a dream come true for 46-year-old Katie Callan when she heard the news that she had been hired as Ocean City’s new human resource director.
“My husband and I had been wanting to spend more time at our home in Ocean City for years, but with me working full time two and a half hours away, this seemed impossible,” Callan.
The Maryland native was born in Baltimore City and raised in Baltimore County where she lived for the next 20 or so years until she met her husband, TJ Callan.
The two settled in Harford County, where they have lived for 25 years.
In 2012, the couple purchased a second home in Ocean City, and split their time here and in Abingdon.
Callan has a long history in the human resources (HR) profession — obtaining her bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a master’s degree in human resource development, both at Towson University.
She then obtained two additional professional certifications in the area of human resources management, including a PHR certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and the designation as a SHRM-CP from the Society for Human Resources Management.
Callan is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP).
“What originally drew me to the profession and what keeps my passion for HR alive is the profoundly positive impact HR professionals can, and do, have on the workforce and the culture of the organization,” she said.
Her first gig in human resources came around 25 years ago, when Storage USA, located in Columbia, offered her a position as its human resources generalist.
She then moved on to Aon Consulting in Owings Mills.
“After a few years at Aon, I missed the diversity of responsibilities which comes from a more generalist HR role, and moved on to Baltimore Medical System (BMS), where I stayed for the next 14 years holding the titles HR generalist, HR director, vice president for HR and finally vice president for administrative operations,” Callan said.
Then in 2014, she joined Harford Community College as the institution’s director for human resources, where over the course of 5.5 years she would be promoted from HR director, to associate vice president for administration and technology and then to senior associate vice president for administration.
Despite her success at Harford, her time there was cut short after she found herself in the middle of controversy.
In early January, a newspaper article was published claiming Callan and two other senior level administrators had been let go after using their official e-mail accounts to create a “betting pool” of sorts, through which they improperly speculated about lower level employee termination.
Harford Community College, at the time, was going through a historic turnover.
The article went on to quote a former employee, who described the incident as a “hit list.”
None of the three administrators were quoted in the article, and the article states requests for comments made to several departments at the college were not returned.
However, Callan said reporters did not directly contact her for comment, and an email sent to the editor shortly after went unanswered.
She told Ocean City Today that the incident began two years ago, in December 2018, as a conversation between the three administrators about who might be at risk for attrition at the college in the near future.
“At that time, there was a tremendous amount of change taking place at the college resulting from the hiring of a new president in 2016,” she said. “This new president brought with her many new ideas and began implementing numerous large scale projects.”
Employees were struggling to adjust to the pace and the extent of changes being implemented, however, and as a result the college had a significant amount of turnover, particularly among senior-level administrators, Callan said.
“This was a trend my colleagues and I were extremely concerned about and were working very hard to reverse,” she said.
By July 2019, 30 of 35 administrators had been turned over in a 24-month period.
“I was reminded that we had discussed potential departures and had even written down our thoughts at the end of 2018,” Callan recalled. “This is where I made a significant error in judgment by translating that information into an email, which I sent to my two colleagues indicating whose instincts had been the most accurate and stated that we owed that individual [a] drink.”
Callan stressed that the conversation had never been about lower-level employees, but her peer group.
“The story intentionally leads a reader to believe that these were individuals taking advantage of their position to humiliate the rank and file,” Callan said.
Callan also criticized the article’s implication that she held immense authority over the employment status of other employees.
She explained that the college has a robust employee grievance and due process procedure, and a termination requires the approval of the college president and review from legal counsel.
“To indicate that we would have the authority to influence the dismissal of any employee without cause due process is simply untrue,” she said.
Nevertheless, in an attempt to make amends, Callan said she wrote personal letters to all included on her list and provided context missing from the published article, the reasons why she felt they were at risk for termination and apologized for her actions.
She also offered to meet in person if they wished to discuss the issue further or just to clear the air, she said.
Following her resignation at Harford Community College, Callan immediately began job hunting, and applied for the city position in February.
“Katie was very forthright about her situation at Harford Community College,” City Manager Doug Miller said. “The press article was not totally accurate. She acknowledged it was a big mistake that she had made, [and] we understood that it did not disqualify her from our consideration.”
“I wanted to be completely transparent with the town from the start,” Callan said. “It would be difficult to build trust with my new colleagues if they were to discover this on their own.”
Despite securing the position this month, Callan knows the journey is not over, and she hopes to prove herself worthy of confidence and trust.
“Although this is not something I am proud of, it certainly does not define me, nor is it reflective of my successful 25-year career in HR,” Callan said. “I believe my skills and experience, along with the relationships I will build with my new colleagues will serve to relieve the initial reservations some people may have based on this one incident.”
Ocean City Today’s request for comment by the publication mentioned in the story went unanswered.