Bel-Nor vs The ACLU: The Great Yard Sign Fight

Did you know that Bel-Nor 1) recently went to court over yard signs and 2) spent a whole lot of money doing it? 

Here's an AI-generated (Google's Bard) overview of the case. 

Willson v. City of Bel-Nor was a 2019 case in which the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a city ordinance that limited residents to displaying one sign and one flag in their yards. The court held that the ordinance was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment's right to free speech.

The case began when Bel-Nor resident Lawrence Willson put up three signs in his yard in support of a political candidate and a local school board member. He was visited by a police officer who informed him that he was violating the city's ordinance. Willson refused to take down the signs, and he was subsequently cited by the city.

Willson filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing that the ordinance was unconstitutional. The district court ruled in favor of Bel-Nor, but Willson appealed. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, holding that the ordinance was an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech.

The court found that the ordinance was not narrowly tailored to serve a legitimate government interest. The city argued that the ordinance was necessary to prevent visual clutter and traffic safety concerns, but the court found that the city had not presented any evidence to support these claims. The court also noted that the ordinance allowed residents to display certain types of signs, such as real estate signs and religious signs, without any limitation.

Need a TL:DR version of this? Here you go.

The Bel-Nor Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance saying you couldn't have more than one yard sign in your yard. That's pretty clearly violating a person's First Amendment rights. Mr. Wilson told them so and went ahead with having multiple yard signs in his yard to express his views. Mr. Wilson was ticketed for this. The ACLU stepped in and ended up taking Bel-Nor to court on behalf of Mr. Wilson. The courts eventually ruled that this ordinance was a violation of a person's First Amendement right to free speech and that the ordinance couldn't be enforced. 

 As you are probably well-aware, lawyers don't come cheap. How much did the taxpayers of Bel-Nor pay for this whole affair? Well, we really don't know. What we do know is pretty hard to read if you're a resident of Bel-Nor and value where your tax dollars are spent.

This document from the United States District Court Eastern District of Missouri Eastern Division awards Mr. Wilson his taxable costs of $1,177. It also says Bel-Nor is on the hook for his attorney's fees of $75, 681.00. This amount is for 202.40 billable hours. In the notes it states that more hours were actually spent on the case, but the plaintiff isn't seeking compensation for those.

Bel-Nor's legal team opposed the Plaintiff's motion. Much like their other arguments in the case (we'll get to those), they were smacked down pretty hard. Here's a summary of the arguments vs what the court said.

1) Bel-Nor: The facts of this case weren't complex and neither were the arguments

Court: We agree the facts weren't complex. YOU MADE THE CASE & ARGUMENTS COMPLEX!

This line below is taken directly from the court's ruling  

The City “could have avoided liability for the bulk of the attorney’s fees for which [it] now find[s itself] liable by making a reasonable settlement offer in a timely manner.”
2) Bel-Nor: The ACLU lawyers have been involved in these municipal sign cases before so they shouldn't be paid for their hours on this case. 

Court:   That's an absurd argument. Also, you didn't actually point out a single billable hour that you're questioning.

Brace yourself for this one. This might be my favorite and might get your blood boiling. 

3) Bel-Nor: The ACLU lawyers billed an excessive amount of hours and taxpayers shouldn't be taken advantage of like that. 

Court: The ACLU lawyers billed for 202.40 hours on this case. YOUR OWN LAWYERS BILLED BEL-NOR FOR 286.60 HOURS! You can't claim their billable hours were excessive when your own lawyers billed taxpayers 40% more.

 4) Bel-Nor: The ACLU lawyers' hourly rates are excessive

Court: These ACLU lawyers are really good and know their stuff. Maybe if Bel-Nor had better lawyers they wouldn't have been billed for so many hours?

5) Bel-Nor: It's not fair that we have to pay all this money for the attorneys but Mr. Wilson only asked for $1,000 in damages. 

Court: That's a dumb argument. This was never about money for Mr. Wilson. He wanted to prove that you overstepped your authority and tried stomping on his First Amendment rights and well as those of his neighbors. 

Before we took a detour we asked just how much this whole affair cost the taxpayers of Bel-Nor. The document that we just cited, which we highly recommend you read in full yourself, awards the following amounts:

Attorney Fees: $75,681

Litigation Expenses: $3,728.33

Plaintiff Bill of Costs: $1,177.00

Total: $80,586.33 

But that $80,000+ isn't the full number.  The court mentioned that Bel-Nor's legal team billed for 286.60 hours. Even if all of those hours were at the $250 rate of the plaintiff's lowest-paid attorney -which they were not - that amount would still be $71,650 and bring our total to a rather astonishing $152,236.33

We can not find an overall monetary figure or a breakdown of how it was/will be paid. The only clue we have is line item from Bel-Nor's 2023 budget. There's a line item marked "Lawsuit Settlement Cost" with a figure of $16,000. This line item had the same value in the 2021 and 2022 budgets as well. Is this amount for this case? Is this how this cost is being paid? If so, it will take about a decade to pay off $152,000+ and that's without any interest. 

Do you know more about the total cost of this case or how it is being paid for? Drop us an email at or just share it on NextDoor so we all can see.

A final note. The ordinance this case was over is still part of the Bel-Nor Municipal Code. Check it out for yourself below.

Section 405.120: /"R-1\" Single-Family District.

If you get a ticket for having more than one sign in your yard, Belnormous wants to know. More importantly, we have it on good authority that the ACLU wants to know.



2023 Bel-Nor Board of Aldermen Meeting Minutes

 On July 17, a message went up on the Bel-Nor website about meeting minutes. A resident apparently asked about meeting minutes and the Board graciously decided to post the minutes from two recent meetings. 

 A lot going on here so I'll just use bullet points:

  • Meetings are supposed to open with approving the minutes from the previous meeting. The minutes posted are unofficial. Why haven't these minutes been approved yet?
  • The files linked are Microsoft Word files. All you can do is shake your head and sigh. We've converted them to PDF files and linked them below for your convenience. 

May 15, 2023 Board of Aldermen General Meeting - Unofficial Meeting Minutes

April 17, 2023 Board of Aldermen General Meeting - Unofficial Meeting Minutes 

Who knows if we'll actually get other minutes  posted. Do you have other minutes from 2023 or previous years? Send them to and we'll post them. Everything is anonymous so don't worry about sending something in and then immediately getting cited for your grass being 7.5 inches tall.

Edit: A resident was kind enough to send us other unofficial meeting minutes that they apparently acquired from somewhere. We've added these below and on our Meeting Minutes page.

April 17, 2023 Clearview Island Public Hearing - Unofficial Meeting Minutes

January 16, 2023 Board of Aldermen Meeting - Unofficial Meeting Minutes

February 20,2023 Board of Aldermen Meeting - Unofficial Meeting Minutes 

March 20, 2023 Board of Aldermen Meeting - Unofficial Meeting Minutes 

May 23, 2023 Board of Aldermen Special Public Meeting - Unofficial Meeting Minutes



 Welcome to Are you frustrated that the Bel-Nor website has basically zero information? We are too. We'll post Board of Aldermen meeting minutes, events, city documents, stories and more. This is bare bones and a work in progress so hold on tight and we'll see where we can take this. 

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Bel-Nor vs The ACLU: The Great Yard Sign Fight

Did you know that Bel-Nor 1) recently went to court over yard signs and 2) spent a whole lot of money doing it?  Here's an AI-generated ...