Mayor Nutter yesterday appointed a top state official who once served as the city recreation commissioner to run the newly merged department of parks and recreation.

Michael DiBerardinis currently heads the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. From 1992 to 2000, he was city recreation commissioner under Mayor Rendell, expanding programs and revitalizing city parks, playgrounds and pools.

Nutter said DiBerardinis was the perfect person to supervise the merging of the two departments, scheduled to be completed by July 1.

"I love this park system," Nutter said, "and I think having recreation opportunities for kids and those who are young at heart is the centerpiece of what the city is supposed to be.

"I could think of no better person to do that than Mike DiBerardinis."

DiBerardinis will also oversee the Free Library of Philadelphia, previously under the wing of the deputy mayor for health and opportunity, Don Schwartz.

DiBerardinis starts on April 6. The job has a $160,000 annual salary, but Nutter said DiBerardinas would be taking a 5 percent pay cut like the rest of his senior staff, bringing it down to $152,000.

DiBerardinis said he was excited about the challenge.

"It is historic to put these two wonderful agencies together to better serve the interests of the citizens," he said.

Last November, voters approved a change to the city charter that abolished the 141-year-old Fairmount Park Commission and combined oversight of parks with recreation facilities in a department of parks and recreation.

Nutter said Mark Focht, executive director of Fairmount Park, and Recreation Commissioner Sue Slawson will stay on in their departments after DiBerardinis takes over. Details are being worked out, but Slawson will get a new title, perhaps director of recreation. *