Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele gave his final public remarks to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday during a special ceremony commending his 30 years of public service before he retires at the end of the month.

Mele spoke about his mother, who died more than 20 years ago, and his police-officer father, whose picture he kept in his office to remind himself of his roots.

“All he ever wanted to be was a worker bee,” Mele said of his father. “That has served me well when I would hand out discipline or making decisions, always remember where you came from.”

The sheriff who has served for the past 12 years is sticking true to that sentiment by retiring six months before the end of his third and final term.

Mele announced his decision in May as a way to save money for the financially strapped county and prevent any layoffs of lower-level support staffers in his office.

He did not seek re-election this year, paving the way for Undersheriff Bill Pooley to run unopposed.

“Those folks back there, they’re the sheriff’s office,” Mele said looking back to dozens of his uniformed colleagues lining the perimeter of the board’s meeting room. “They’re your agency. Not me.”

In addition to being recognized by the county, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow and State Sen. Tom Berryhill also gave special commendation to Mele marking his retirement and decades of service.

The final milestone of Mele’s career was successfully advocating for the new $40 million jail called the Sheriff J.H. “Jack” Dambacher Detention Center, which is scheduled to open at the end of 2019 after construction started earlier this year.

Mele’s wife of 34 years, Sharon, dabbed tears from her eyes with a tissue while seated in the front row. The couple has five children and eight grandchildren.

Mele, 56, said in an interview that he’s not sure what the future holds.

He said he leaned on his strong faith in God as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he served as bishop for five years during his tenure as sheriff, in making his decision to retire.

Mele said he’s not worried about the future of the department and is grateful that Pooley will become his successor after his final day on June 30.

“The organization will be fine,” he said. “It’s the people who really make you look better than you are.”

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

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