Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele will not seek reelection after 12 years of serving at the helm of the county law enforcement agency.

“As a leader, sometimes you need to step aside and allow the people that are under you to move forward and take the organization,” he said over the phone Wednesday afternoon. “I felt that now is the time. I feel that, with the jail moving forward, it just is the right time to do it.”

Mele identified the groundbreaking of the new Tuolumne County Jail, the Sheriff J.H. “Jack” Dambacher Detention Center, as the penultimate success of his tenure.

“We needed to have that jail,” he said. “We lobbied very hard and very diligently to get that money. We really looked outside of the box, and the state supported us in that.”

The prospect of retirement had been a consideration “back and forth” in his mind for about a year, he said, but he came to the decision this week with a recognition that his “management team” had the experience and wherewithal the steward the future of the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.

“I feel now this is the time to move on and let the next generation step up and move this agency and community forward. I am very proud of the accomplishments we have made during my tenure,” stated a press release attributed to Mele.

Mele referred to the decision to not run as “the most difficult and painstaking decision” of his life, but noted “I still have the passion for the job, I still have the ability to do the job.”

“But I think that it’s better or me to leave now where I can look back with fondness and good memories versus disappointment and possibly anger, so I just feel now is the time.”

Mele’s unexpected retirement opens up the opportunity for a wide range of potential candidates to enter into the Tuolumne County Office of the Sheriff election.

The nomination period for potential candidates to enter the race began on Feb. 12, with the deadline of March 9 if the incumbent had decided to run. With Mele’s departure from the office, the deadline has been extended to March 14.

Mele said Undersheriff Bill Pooley planned to declare his candidacy and that he would support him in his run for the office.

“I’m a firm believer that the people need to elect their sheriff,” he said. “He has the opportunity to run an election and let the people validate that that’s who they want.”

Mele said he had not spoken to anyone else in the Sheriff’s Office who expressed a desire to run for the position.

Mele added that he planned to complete his term. .

Looking back over his 12 years in office, Mele identified the adaptation to realignment, or the shifting of state prison populations to county jails and the groundbreaking of the new Tuolumne County Jail, as his main successes.

Additionally, the establishment of jail industries, the implementation of 21st century technology and the restarting of the K9 program were all notable moments of his tenure, he said.

“What I’m most proud of is our partnerships with the community,” he said. “Law enforcement cant be successful without the partnerships of the community.”

In his retirement, Mele said he plans to spend time with his wife of 34 years, children and grandchildren.

“I’ve made many sacrifices. I just need to spend time with my family,” he said. “It was a very difficult decision to come to, but I know it’s the right decision.”