Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The work card, adopted in a previous era, remains a powerful tool of the Las Vegas City Council to deny people the right to be employed in certain jobs.
Such power was on full display at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
But after watching two women weep and grovel, then have their personal lives splayed out — in sometimes embarrassing detail — before the council while begging for a work card, Councilman Bob Beers called it “torture.”
And change may be on the way.
First, what is a work card?
It’s a throwback to the days of the mob. To gain a bit of control over who the casinos hired, local officials decades ago began requiring people who work in the industry to go through criminal background checks.
Over time, local officials and Metro Police expanded the scope of the work card, which creates a revenue stream for the police department.
Getting a work card can cost up to $135.25, including fees for an FBI background check and fingerprinting. Due to the cost of appeals, Clark County has cut back on the types of jobs requiring the cards. In 2009, Metro issued about 10,000 work cards. Fortune-tellers need the work card. Carnies. Ice cream truck operators.
Even convenience store clerks.
Is that what happened last week with a worker at a 7-Eleven?
Yes. But before the 7-Eleven decision, the council took up an appeal by another young woman needing a card to work in a restaurant. After her father spoke on her behalf — the woman’s manager didn’t show — Councilman Steve Ross asked for a delay until Nov. 7 so he could talk to the owner of the restaurant. The decision left the woman in tears.
Then came Beverly Kay Whitby. The former card dealer and honorably discharged veteran read from a 1 1/2-page typed biography in which she outlined the following: an abusive husband who fractured her skull in 2000 and was imprisoned for attempted murder, a teenage daughter who died shortly after having a stroke, a nervous breakdown, becoming homeless and living under an overpass and being forced into prostitution.
She has been arrested but had no previous felonies and no gross misdemeanors.
After leaving Nevada, she returned in July to be near another daughter.
“I was fortunate enough to find a job at 7-Eleven,” she said.
The store is in unincorporated Clark County, which no longer requires convenience store clerks to have work cards. Her boss, however, wanted her to work in another 7-Eleven in Las Vegas which would requre a city work card.
“When Metro denied my work card, I was shocked,” Whitby said. “I have spoken with a couple of different convicted felons, recently released from prison, who shop in my store, and they have been issued work cards.”
She said the city’s Department of Planning staff demanded that every page of her application be initialed by her boss, and she was left feeling belittled.
“It doesn’t make any sense that my misdemeanor convictions don’t prevent me from being mayor, serving on this council (or) being employed by the city of Las Vegas ... but do prevent me from being a clerk at the 7-Eleven across the street from the 7-Eleven where I am currently a clerk.”
What did the council do?
The decision to grant or deny the card is subjective. At first, Councilman Bob Coffin said he wanted her to return another day with evidence in her support. But Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony urged the council to give the woman her card.
Coffin deferred to Anthony, a former Metro officer, and the council voted to give her the work card.
How might this process change?
Beers said he wanted city staff to reconsider the process for hearing work card appeals. Clark County, for instance, dropped the public-hearing aspect of those appeals at least three years ago.
Beers said the Whitby denial case was “ridiculous.”
“She can work at four other 7-Elevens in the valley but she can’t work at the one in the city,” he said. “Doesn’t make sense for me.”
As for the public appeal, Beers said the Council “seems to be delving deeper and deeper into the private lives of people struggling to get work, much more than in other jurisdictions. And I don’t understand why.”