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Editorial: Parks and Recreation

Quite a following

It would come as no surprise if Mayor Nutter's appointment last week of Michael DiBerardinis to run Philadelphia's new parks and recreation agency prompted the flood of 200-plus applicants for the department's advisory panel.

The nine, volunteer parks and recreation commissioners to be named can expect DiBerardinis - head of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources since 2003 - to put a challenging agenda before them in their policy-setting role.

As a longtime Philadelphian and former city Recreation Department commissioner, DiBerardinis, 59, brings a unique mix of experience, vision and passion to a complex job.

In addition to running recreation programs when Gov. Rendell was Philadelphia's mayor, DiBerardinis briefly served as a Fairmount Park commissioner. Then he burnished his credentials as a preservationist with six-plus years in the state park system.

While in Harrisburg, the new parks and rec chief kept a hand in Philadelphia - promoting tree-planting efforts and advocating for the transformation of the Delaware River waterfront.

His expanded brief for Nutter will include oversight of the Free Library system, which should be a good fit since libraries are just as integral to thriving neighborhoods as good parks and rec programs.

Merging the Fairmount Park Commission and Recreation Department in ways that enhance both requires aligning two agencies with different cultures, as well as maximizing scarce financial resources.

DiBerardinis should benefit from having able deputies in Mark Focht, executive director of Fairmount Park, and Recreation Commissioner Sue Slawson. Both are staying on.

The clamor of so many candidates for the parks and recreation panel is another positive step in the effort to remake a city jewel.

That's what voters called for in November when they merged parks with recreation, as most cities do. The advisory panel will set policy in vital areas such as parkland preservation.

In the days leading up to DiBerardinis' selection Thursday, though, only a trickle of candidates applied. In part, that stemmed from some park advocates' fears that the panel will have a limited voice.

Now, City Council has a deep field from which to assemble a stellar commission to partner with DiBerardinis. Its challenge in the weeks ahead is to pick the best - read: not political - panel nominees to recommend for appointment by the mayor.