In the past five years, Oklahoma City taxpayers have cut checks totaling $20.6 million to retiring city employees for accrued vacation and sick leave, Watchdog.org found through an analysis of city databases.

Nearly 500 employees — almost half — left the city with checks of $10,000 or more, including one employee who cashed out $108,000 and another 17 who took home more than $80,000 each upon retiring, records show.

State Sen. David Holt, an Oklahoma City Republican who served as an Oklahoma City mayoral chief of staff, has been a critic of the state system that can take union negotiations out of local elected officials’ hands and can put them before an arbitrator. He said the payouts are based on salaries negotiated in the contract so that’s why payments are costing taxpayers so much.

“The binding arbitrating system is so accepted that most people do not complain about it as much as they should,” he said. “It’s not in the best interests of taxpayers.”

While Oklahoma City policies allow all employees to accrue and cash out 1,000 hours of sick leave and 400 hours of vacation time, police and firefighters account for most of the large leave payments, the database shows.

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