225 Financial Tips for Guarding the Public Checkbook
By Len Wood

An indispensable book for locally elected-officials--city councils, county supervisors, school boards and their administrators and staffs. Written in an easy to understand style, it is a must for candidates for local officials and concerned citizens who want to know how and why their money is being spent. Each chapter begins with a real life story such as the city manager who used the city’s credit card to go on a lavish shopping spree, the city that used debt to mask it’s huge deficit or the school superintendent who sacrificed the district’s solvency to create an award winning curriculum. Includes hundreds of tips and techniques to provide oversight and hold staff accountable. It will help you:

Find hidden money in the budget

Decide on the right fund balance level

Avoid common fiscal sins and omissions

Make rational budget cuts

Ask penetrating budget questions

Monitor the treasury function

Assess the risks involved in entrepreneurial ventures

Identify disastrous fiscal practices

Tackle a municipal budget in eleven steps

Local Government Dollar & Sense is used as a primary or secondary text by several universities including the University of Southern California, University of Illinois, Indiana University, North Carolina State University, University of California, Berkeley, California State University at Northridge, California Lutheran University, University of Iowa and the University of British Columbia. It has also been used as a text for ICMA University sessions in New York, Iowa, Washington and Texas.


Local Government Dollars & Sense is a comprehensive primer of local government finance and fiscal control. I would recommend it for any person that plans to run for or who has been elected to public office.
--Beverly O’Neill, Mayor, City of Long Beach

Len Wood lists more than 20 questions public officials ought to ask themselves before using public money to build, boost or bond.
--Cerise A Valenzuela, The San Bernardino Sun

Len Wood’s book cuts a swath through the buzzwords and bureaucratic nonsense. Local Government Dollars & Sense contains excellent advice for elected officials and administrators who want to master their agency’s budget and finances.
--E. Robert Turner, Former City Manager of Cincinnati and President of the International City/County Management Association

The wealth of local government experience compiled in Local Government Dollars & Sense is not only insightful, but absolutely amazing. Every elected official should have a copy.
--Wally Linn, Former Mayor of La Palma and Division President of the League of California Cities


From Public Management, August, 1998:
Few books on public administration have been as much of a pleasure to read as Len Wood’s
Local Government Dollars & Sense. No book on local government budgeting and financial administration has ever come close to being that. Subtitled 225 Financial Tips for Guarding the Public Checkbook, this volume is a clear and detailed explanation of how the budgeting and financial control process works and why, on occasion, it fails.

Every elected local government official should acquire a copy of this book and, better, yet, read it carefully from cover to cover. I suspect that, once officials have read the first chapter, they will find themselves unable to put the book down.

But it also should be read by a variety of others. Who should read it? Students of public administration, who will gain an understanding of how the process actually works in the real world.

Professors of public administration, who probably have an excellent understanding of how the process works at the federal level, or even in the larger states and local governments, but have no idea what’s going on down at city hall. Local government administrators, who want to avoid finding themselves in the same predicaments as some of the people in the book, and who, if their elected officials read it, are going to have some questions to answer.

In its 14 chapters, Local Government Dollars & Sense covers as broad array of topics, starting with “Stop Campaigning and Begin Governing” and finishing with “Public-Private Ventures Are Not for the Timid,” stopping along the way to visit “When You Must Cut” and “Where Do We Get the Money?”These chapters are divided into 225 “tips” ranging from “Tip number 1: Don’t be hamstrung by unrealistic or uninformed election promises” to “Tip number 225: Start asking the important questions early.” When first encountered, many of the tips seem simplistic, but when you read the accompanying text, you will discover that Wood has provided detailed support and hundreds of examples of both successes and failures taken from the case histories of jurisdictions large and small across the country.

It is these case studies, which represent an extraordinary effort by the author, that make the book such riveting reading. If I still was a city manager, I would give a copy of this book to each member of my council. But I would prepare a detailed report on the changes I would recommend to improve the city’s budget and financial control processes before I give it to them. If I was teaching a class in financial management, I would use this as a text. If I wanted actually to enjoy reading about public finance, I would buy this book.

Len Wood’s Local Government Dollar & Sense is to understanding local government financial administration what Wildavsky’s The Politics of the Budgetary Process was to understand the federal system.
--Laurence R. Sprecher Senior Associate Public Management Associates Portland, Oregon

From: The Midwest Book Review, September 1998:
As local governments grow more complex and are handed more responsibility from the federal and state level it is more important than ever that local public officials understand finance. The reality is, however, that there are no real requirements that the individuals filling these positions be trained or experienced in finance or budgeting. To redress this reality is Len Wood’s
Local Government Dollars & Sense, offering 225 financial tips for guarding the public checkbook. Each of the fourteen chapters begins with a dramatic, real-life situation illustrating a point relevant to local government finance, including city, county, school district, and special district governments. Local Government Dollars & Sense is especially recommended for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in local government and anyone who is charged with governmental finance responsibility at any level.
-- James A Cox, Editor in Chief

From: Small Town: May-June 1998
Len Wood is a former city manager who has spent 23 years administering cities in California. He presently owns a consulting firm and serves as interim city manager for communities recruiting permanent city managers. Wood has used this extensive experience to develop a series of books and manuals for city government officials. The latest is
Local Government Dollars & Sense; 225 Tips for Guarding the Public Checkbook. In short, he is trying to explain the complexities and pitfalls of the budgeting process and this thoughtful work explains how city officials can balance budgets and still serve the needs, and interests of their constituencies.

In his introduction, Wood writes, “To many people, guarding the public checkbook is a simple task. All you have to do is stop the reckless spending and throw out the rascals. This simplistic view quickly changes after one is in office for a short period. As a member of a governing body, you know that the problems are much more complex.” The bulk of the book addresses the complexities of the problems and give solid information concerning how they can be approached.

The subject matter is simplified, much as it would be in a classroom. Wood is direct, yet thorough. Chapter titles range from “How to Lessen Budget Anxiety” and “What is an Adequate Fund Balance,”' to “Disastrous Fiscal Practices” and “When You Must Cut.” Each chapter is divided into small, one- or two-page sections containing real, tested tips on how to proceed. For example, the chapter, “When to Cut,” includes sections on determining the cutbacks, developing a cutback philosophy, administration costs and identifying core services. Each section is concise, easy to read and could easily serve as the basis for informed discussions among the city manager and the city staff.

The book contains much material on common mistakes made in the budgeting process--and, this makes it very valuable. It is always important not to negatively reinvent the wheel. Wood believes that we shouldn’t do bad things over and over again because of lack of information. The stories that Wood sprinkles throughout the book illustrate the pitfalls of local government and also show managers positive initiatives that point out how they can avoid those pitfalls in the future.

Local Government Dollars & Sense is easy to understand, logically-developed and amply-illustrated. It also contains a full bibliography and appendices focusing on the budgeting process. According to Wood, “Most local officials have dedicated themselves to improving their local government. They have discovered that guarding the public checkbook involves much more than simply cutting budgets and shunning tax increases. They scrutinize their agency’s performance and are willing to take politically unpopular stands such as raising taxes or fees when convinced of the need.” With this very well-written and comprehensive book, managers can responsibly proceed with their very difficult task of matching local government revenues with the needs and wants of their constituents.

Book Specifications

  • Size: 9 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Pages: 360
  • Price: $34.95
  • Publication Date: 1998
  • Most Recent Publication Date: 2002
  • ISBN: 0-9634374-3-7
  • Publisher: Training Shoppe

Price: $34.95