STRIPPING the Masonic Temple on Charles Street downtown of...


October 25, 1997

STRIPPING the Masonic Temple on Charles Street downtown of its antiques is sacrilege that sadly occurs often these days. The only reason the Masons' misguided attic sale became widely known was the lawsuit of the building's prospective buyer, Baltimore Orioles owner and litigator Peter G. Angelos.

There is good news on the local preservation front, though. The Engineering Society's 1880s Garrett-Jacobs mansion on Mount Vernon Square, the largest and most expensive residence ever built in Baltimore, is about to get a thorough renovation.

"The boilers are from the 1940s, the electricity from 1917," Mike Szimanski, a trustee of the mansion's endowment fund, said, describing the upgrading that will take several years to complete and is estimated to cost $6 million.

Renovations will begin in March with the restoration of the brownstone facade of the landmark containing 40 rooms, 16 fireplaces and 100 windows, including a few by Louis Tiffany. Built for the Robert Garrett family (president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad), it is one of the truly awesome baronial edifices in town.

The first stage of the restoration is expected to cost $700,000. Some $400,000 has been pledged so far.

The Garrett-Jacobs mansion is a rare gem. We urge Baltimoreans to support the current capital repair campaign.

THE REPUBLIC of Congo, Brazzaville (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa), has reverted to form. One man rule.

The civil war is over. Gen. Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the former dictator who lost an honest election in 1992, has got his country back. No more nonsense about elections. At least the fighting and killing are over.

The once and future strong man was abetted by Angola and France in the end. He did not do much constructive work for his country from 1979 to 1991. Many optimists say post-colonial Africa is overcoming its recent past. Not in Republic of Congo, where the meaner side in the civil war won.

CONGRESS apparently is determined to overhaul the Internal Revenue Service's way of doing business, which is a good thing. But legislating takes time, and implementing a massive restructuring will take even longer. Far more important in the short term is the mind-set of the next IRS commissioner, Charles O. Rossotti.

There is reason for optimism. Mr. Rossotti is not an attorney, he is not an expert on the incredibly complex Tax Code and he is not a professional bureaucrat or Washington fixture. He comes to the job from the private sector -- a part of the private sector that is most relevant to the troubled IRS.

In his prior life, Mr. Rossotti ran a big Northern Virginia company that specializes in providing large corporations and institutions with advice and technical services on how to improve performance by harnessing information technologies, particularly giant computer systems.

That is precisely what the IRS needs. The agency just spent a staggering $4 billion on a computer system that was obsolete and inadequate when it was installed. Improving performance will take not only better hardware but also a leaner management structure and a can-do, customer-responsive attitude.

Mr. Rossotti, 56, won praise at a Senate hearing this week. He has his work cut out for him, but his background in technology and management could make a big difference in a relatively short time.

Pub Date: 10/25/97

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