Havre City Judge Joyce Perszyk issued a court order Friday instructing the city's public works director to remove City Council name plates that had been installed in a City Hall room that doubles as the council's chamber and city court.
The court order said public works director Dave Peterson would be cited for contempt of court if the name plates, which had been screwed into the council's table, weren't gone by 8:30 a.m. Friday.
Perszyk said today she issued a court order because she knew that Mayor Bob Rice, Peterson's immediate superior, was out of town and she had no authority over Peterson.
Perszyk said it could be confusing for people in the court if she and lawyers were sitting behind name tags that didn't belong to them.
The reaction from Peterson and the media attention to her court order have been unreasonable, she said.
"I'm afraid it got a little out of hand," she said.
The name plates had been installed on Wednesday at the request of Mayor Bob Rice. Peterson said he had no authority to remove the tags without instructions from Rice. After he called a meeting with the city attorney and Perszyk, he had them removed, he said.
Rice told city workers several weeks ago that he wanted permanent name plates for City Council members on their table.
"I've tried to make improvements to make this a little more palatable and friendly," he said today, "and those council members have earned the right to have their name up there."
As it is now, the name tags are kept in a box and are put up immediately before the meeting. That sometimes causes problems if the box can't be found or if the tags are forgotten until right before the meeting, Rice said. If the tags are not there, Havre residents might not know the council member's precinct or name, he added.
Montana law says he has to provide a space for the city judge to hold court, but the room actually is a council chamber, Rice said.
Perszyk said the law goes a bit farther than saying the city has to provide a space.
"The code book says they have to give you a dignified courtroom," she said.
Rice said he thinks issuing a court order was inappropriate.
"What I see is some professionalism has to come into play here," he said.
He said he started receiving cell phone calls about possible contempt of court citations Friday while he was at a training conference for mayors in Bozeman.
"It was embarrassing to me to be at a mayors academy, no less, and try to deal with that," he said.
Rice said he doesn't know if anything besides the stated reasons may have prompted the court order.
Perszyk's budget request was cut last year, and she said in August the cuts upset her.
She said today the budget situation had nothing to do with the court order Friday. All city departments have to submit a budget, and cuts are made, she said.
Rice said he plans to continue trying to install the tags. They add dignity to the council proceedings, he said.