Tuolumne County Undersheriff Bill Pooley is nearly guaranteed to become the county’s next sheriff after a potential challenger withdrew from the race on Wednesday just hours before the 5 p.m. deadline to be included on the June 5 primary election ballot.

Former Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Lyons, who retired in 2016, pulled nomination paperwork on Monday that’s required to get his name on the ballot, but decided against running after discussions with family and friends.

“I would like to extend my humble appreciation to those in the community who supported and encouraged me to run,” he said in a written statement. “I wish Bill Pooley all the best and am confident he will handle the challenges that lay ahead successfully.”

The only way someone can challenge Pooley at this point is to become a qualified write-in candidate.

Anyone who wants to qualify must file a statement of write-in candidacy at the county Elections Office between April 9 and May 22 with at least 20, but no more than 40, valid signatures from registered voters in the county.

County Clerk Debi Bautista said a person must qualify as a write-in candidate for their votes to count, otherwise anyone running unopposed in the election only needs a single vote to win.

“The challenge is their name is not on the ballot,” Bautista said of write-in candidates.

Pooley’s career in law enforcement spans 28 years, including the past five as Mele’s second in command.

He started his career as an officer at the Sonora Police Department in 1990 and later became a sheriff’s deputy before serving with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office, where he was chief of police for the City of Riverbank.

A press release put out by Pooley after declaring his candidacy on Monday stated that he shares Mele’s vision of leadership and pledged to maintain open communication and transparency with the community.

“With your support, I will continue to build the relationships that have made Tuolumne County the place we are proud to call home,” Pooley stated.

Pooley has worked closely with Mele on projects over the past five years, including the $40 million county jail that’s scheduled to begin construction this month.

Last year, Pooley also spearheaded a task force to help Jamestown address issues related to homelessness.

Merchants praised the task force’s efforts to clean up the streets of Jamestown while treating the homeless in a compassionate way .

“As your Sheriff, my top priorities are to bring people together toward a common goal of ensuring public safety and maintaining the quality of life in Tuolumne County,” Pooley stated. “I will balance financial responsibility with sound judgment.”

Pooley lives in Twain Harte with his wife, Jamie. His family has lived in the county since the 1860s and helped settle the area, according to the press release.

The deadline for running was extended from 5 p.m. last Friday because the incumbent is not running.

Mele was first elected as sheriff in 2006 and will serve out his third consecutive four-year term at the end of the year. He stated in a press release late last month announcing his retirement that he was endorsing Pooley to become his successor.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.