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Tony Farrella is the Fleet Manager within the City of North Olmsted’s Service Department. He has worked for the city since 2002 and was promoted to supervisor in 2017. City departments rely on his expertise to outfit and repair all types of vehicles and equipment, from fire engines to street sweepers to snow plows.
As a kid, Tony would read hot rod magazines and admire cool cars with slick paint jobs. He grew up in North Olmsted schools, and in his sophomore year he was encouraged to attend Polaris JVS to focus on auto body and paint. Tony would cover his homework pages with pen and ink drawings, impressing teachers with his artistic skill. For a little money, he would create murals on the bottoms of kids’ skateboards and draw scenes on people’s mailboxes. He graduated Polaris at the top of his class and, in addition to his diploma, he received a full scholarship to attend a program for commercial art.
The first car Tony built was a 1968 Firebird. He remembers cruising up and down Lorain Road with high school friends, occasionally exceeding the speed limit, and in the process, sometimes getting to know the local police. After graduation, one of his earliest jobs was at an auto shop in Fairview Park building alternators, starters and generators. Tony quickly learned he preferred being his own boss and started a company in 1990 called Olmsted Auto Electric, Inc., eventually purchasing a large rural property that he and his wife, Dawn, have developed over time to suit their needs.
Tony’s unique blend of mechanical and artistic skill have resulted in hundreds of custom cars, trucks and motorcycles, which continue to provide one of his greatest sources of enjoyment and pride. Tony’s paint jobs have appeared in magazines and received numerous awards. Black Betty, his prized 1936 Chevy truck, was completed in 1995 and won Best in Show for all street driven vehicles at the Cleveland Auto-Rama. Black Betty also appears in ink on Tony’s right arm.
Through his business, Tony developed contacts with area fleet and service managers and made lasting relationships within the industry. His contacts in North Olmsted encouraged and finally convinced him to take a job with the city. Tony started working in fleet as a mechanic building police cars and repairing salt trucks. He jokes that when he began working for the city, one of the police officers who recognized him from his youth said, “At least we know the cop cars will go fast now.”
Tony was direct when asked how he felt about his role as fleet manager. “It’s kick ass! It’s so cool, I love it so much!” Tony’s enthusiasm and positive energy are infectious at city hall. While he focuses serious attention on making safety and efficiency top priorities for his crew, his compassion and understanding create a strong, unified team. As a supervisor, Tony appreciates the opportunity to mentor youth assigned to community service hours, encouraging good decision making and a positive outlook that will lead to greater opportunities.
On the technical side, Tony ensures each new vehicle or piece of equipment is thoroughly researched prior to purchase. He began collaborating with other departments to ensure the operators were able to review equipment and provide feedback into the selection process. Tony reflected on the recent Vactor truck purchase used in maintaining the city’s sewer system. “I thought, who operates the truck? It’s the guys out there that are running them. Why not include them in the purchase of the truck? So why don’t we demo all the trucks we need to demo, and they can see which one will do the best job for the city. And then they are part of it, take ownership in it and there’s pride.”
Tony says ongoing training and education will be key to the team’s continued success, especially with new technologies on the horizon. For example, with the expected growth in electric vehicles, his crew will need to be prepared to maintain and repair new vehicle systems. The city currently has one fully electric vehicle assigned to the Fire Department, but the EV fleet is expected to grow in time.
Tony gets most animated when talking about his team. “My crew, Diana and all the guys, they rock! They are so talented, they blow me away!” When the Service Department needed a way to pre-treat roads before snow events, Tony and the Service Department foremen looked at the equipment used in other nearby communities and by ODOT, gathering options and prices. “And I thought why don’t we just make it ourselves?” The result is a tanker that has been affectionately dubbed the Road Wetter 3000. “It’s our very own pre-treating tanker that rolls off the truck, just like what you could purchase, and we saved all that money.”
Tony says the pride of a job well done keeps him and his crew coming to work every day looking for new challenges. “And none of that’s just me, it’s my team. Team Awesome! We’re called Elite Fleet, we have shirts and everything, because we are. Without the trucks firemen can’t put out fires, police can’t get the bad guys, trucks can’t plow… and we keep them all running.”
What is clear is that, for Tony, the job is much more than a paycheck. “For me to be the fleet manager is the baddest, coolest thing.” But some day in the future, he plans to retire and provide the opportunity for the next fleet manager to make their mark and enjoy what he calls “a beautiful career.” After that? Simple. “I never want to stop building cars.”
Meet the Elite Fleet: Tony, Diana, Joe, Danny, Jason, Billy, Emery and Anthony