Why six candidates say they're running for Vernon Hills village board

  • Upper from left, Don Kathan, Christopher Kelly, Thom Koch and lower from left, Michael Schenk, Catherine 'Katie' Sultan, Craig Takaoka are candidates for Vernon Hills village board in the April 6, 2021 election.

    Upper from left, Don Kathan, Christopher Kelly, Thom Koch and lower from left, Michael Schenk, Catherine 'Katie' Sultan, Craig Takaoka are candidates for Vernon Hills village board in the April 6, 2021 election.

Posted3/2/2021 5:27 AM

Six candidates running for village trustee in Vernon Hills are a mix of those experienced with local government and newcomers who say they want to get more involved in the community.

Three 4-year seats are being contested. Nancy Forster, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, is running unopposed for a 2-year seat.


Incumbents are Thom Koch, a village trustee since 1993, and Craig Takaoka, who is seeking a second term. They're joined on the ballot by Don Kathan, who works for the U.S. government in housing and urban development; Michael Schenk, a multiunit restaurant franchise owner; Catherine "Katie" Sultan, a project manager for CVS health; and, Army veteran Christopher Kelly.

Koch, Takaoka and Kathan are running as a team with incumbent Mayor Roger Byrne. Sultan and Kelly are running as Moving Vernon Hills Forward with Brian Lohse, who is challenging Byrne. In 2017, Kathan also ran with Takaoka but lost a bid for mayor.

The candidates aren't divided on a particular issue or initiative but have different perspectives on what it means to be a village trustee and why they're running.

Koch, a retired social studies teacher, said he likes being a trustee and having the ability to help the community in that role.

"I enjoy being on the board and being as involved as possible in my community," he said. Seeing the proposed $250 million Hawthorn Mall redevelopment through and continuing success filling commercial vacancies are priorities, Koch said.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

Takaoka, manager of Channel MR/CT Sales at Hitachi Healthcare, said he's realized the past four years that one can make a difference on the community level compared to state or federal politicians, for example.

"I feel as though I'm a conduit to the village getting things done the community wants," he said.

Takaoka and Koch cite nearly two dozen achievements during the past four years. Most recently, that includes a restaurant assistance program valued at $250,000 and replacing a senior bus with personalized taxi service.

Schenk is the only candidate not running on a slate. He led the referendum campaign in 2018 resulting in voters' approval for a $48.7 million building plan in Hawthorn Elementary District 73. He said he realized change at the local level was possible.

"Once you start putting your voice out there and your name out there, people start coming to you and asking your opinion on things," he said. "I like that. I think I can be a very strong voice for all the residents of Vernon Hills."


Kathan is an original owner in the Greggs Landing subdivision. He served 16 years as president of the Gregg's Landing North homeowner association.

In that role, he addressed the village board several times on various matters, including commercial development along Milwaukee Avenue. Kathan has worked for the federal government for 32 years.

"This is just a natural continuation of my decadeslong history of service to things bigger than myself," he said of his run for village trustee.

Sultan is secretary of the Hawthorn Parent Teacher Organization. She says she has been involved with the schools and wants to be more involved in village matters.

"I think the voters deserve to have fresh ideas on the board," she said. "I think we need more females, a younger generation and a more diverse board making decisions for our community."

Kelly did not participate in the Daily Herald endorsement process but discussed his candidacy in a separate phone interview. Kelly said he has time to invest and it's a "perfect time to jump in and do this."

According to Kelly and Sultan's slate website, the candidates would be "truly committed to the community and dedicated to progress." The slate also questions the transparency of the village board, an observation the incumbents and other candidates dispute.

"There's nothing to hide here," Takaoka said.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.