Beverly Whitby knows fear.
She was savagely beaten, saw her oldest daughter die, lived under a bridge in a seedy part of Las Vegas and was forced into prostitution.
So it means something when Whitby says an experience is intimidating.
And intimidating was the word she used to describe getting permission from the Las Vegas City Council to work as a clerk at 7-Eleven.
Whitby had to stand at a microphone during a televised meeting and explain to the mayor and six other council members why they should override a decision by the Metropolitan Police Department to deny her the work card needed to be a convenience store clerk.
"It took everything inside me to not walk back out through that door," Whitby, a Navy veteran, said of confronting the urge to skip the appeal once she realized what was required. "It is very embarrassing, my past; I am trying to move forward."
The spectacle of Whitby and others baring their souls before the council in order to land a work card has council members questioning the necessity of the process.
"I think that is an embarrassing situation for all parties concerned," Councilman Bob Coffin said. "I don't think it is necessary to drag people's personal lives up in front of the public."
Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony, a former Las Vegas police vice captain, said Whitby's case was an example of why the system should change.
"That one really hit home," Anthony said. "She is in front of the City Council and the public baring her soul because she needed a work card. That is just not right."
WORK CARD PROGRAM'S BEGINNING
The work card program is a throwback to Las Vegas' past.
It's a system of background checks for people seeking to hold certain occupations.
The program was once considered a method to keep organized crime underlings out of gambling halls and other businesses associated with the mafia.
"I think that they came about to attempt to keep fraud out of certain occupations, primarily out of the casino industry," said Karen Duddlesten, director of the city's licensing department.
Duddlesten said her research into the subject suggests Nevada is unique in the level of involvement of government in qualifying people for employment.
"I really couldn't find anybody who had anything similar to our process," she said.
Like many well-intended ideas, the program has grown to cover more areas than creators might have intended.
In Las Vegas, for example, 18 occupations require a work card, according to the city's licensing department. Cards are needed in North Las Vegas for 15 occupations and in Clark County for eight.
Jobs on the list in Las Vegas include restaurant, bar and convenience store workers who handle alcohol, strippers, baby-sitting service providers, commercial dance studio workers, martial arts instructors, door-to-door sales people, pawnbrokers and security guards.
The list of infractions that can lead to denial are scattered throughout city code, making it difficult for people to understand what it takes to pass muster in a particular field.
"It just says crimes of moral turpitude. That can be fraud. It can be alcohol-related offenses. It is quite a long list," Duddlesten said.
APPEALS SPARKED STUDY
Throughout the valley, about 25,000 work card applications are received each year. About 2 percent are denied, Duddlesten said.
People who are denied work cards can appeal to local government. Duddlesten said about 30 appeals were opened in the city this year, but fewer than 10 people completed the appeal process.
Typically, successful appeals include an appearance before the City Council and support from the employer.
The City Council so far this year has approved cards for eight people on appeal, she said.
But after approving appeals in consecutive meetings for Whitby and another woman applying for a job as a server in a northwest Las Vegas steakhouse, council members have Duddlesten preparing a list of potential reforms to the system. She hopes to have a report in January.
Possibilities include reducing the number of occupations that require cards to match the county's list, changing the appeals process to an administrative function that wouldn't require council approval, and combing the city code for references to the cards and consolidating them in one place for the sake of simplicity.
"I think we can do a better job with our appeal process," Duddlesten said. "People want to get to work quickly. To wait for a City Council meeting, all of that takes time."
Had the city list of work card occupations already matched the county's, Whitby wouldn't have had to appear before the City Council.
She was already employed by a family that runs five 7-Eleven stores in the area, four in Clark County and one in the city.
Since the county doesn't require cards for convenience store clerks, Whitby was eligible to work at the county stores but not in the city, even though the lone city store was across the street from one where she already worked.
Whitby went through with the appeal, nonetheless, because she wanted to be able to work more hours and be a more versatile worker for her employer.
"I need that for my self-esteem. I have come a long way," Whitby told the council during the public meeting. "I just want to be that employee, you know, the go-to."
She viewed it as an important step in recovering from a series of tragedies.
During testimony at the council meeting, Whitby recalled how her life unraveled.
A successful dealer and floor supervisor on the Strip from 1994 to 2004, she described how in 2000 a man she knew broke into her home and attacked her, leaving her with a fractured skull, concussion, a hand injury that required surgery, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"You can still see the scars on my forehead and my palm, but the internal scars are more severe," she said.
She faced another trying period that included her parents' deaths and her oldest daughter's stroke and subsequent death in 2009.
During her darkest days, Whitby said she had a breakdown and wound up homeless and living under a bridge.
She said pimps pressured her into prostitution, and she had several run-ins with the law in Nevada and Ohio, where she had gone to be close to her daughter before she died.
Whitby eventually completed community service and returned to Las Vegas, where she found work at 7-Eleven and has set about to regain her footing.
Upbeat and energetic, she knows customers by name and works as many hours as she can.
"I'm asking this council to not look at the five years I was in contact with law enforcement, but instead the 44 years that I haven't been," she said before the unanimous vote in favor of granting the work card.
Councilman Ricki Barlow said procedures that make it difficult to land jobs can derail people's efforts to turn their lives in a positive direction.
"In order to feed their families or even themselves, they turn to dangerous situations where they can get caught up in criminal activity," Barlow said. "We need to do all that we can to be sure that we don't inhibit a person's right to work."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285 .